7:00 PM ET, November 21, 2003
Jack Breslin Student Events Center, East Lansing, Michigan
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Bucknell's atrocious free-throwing shooting allowed No. 3 Michigan State to escape with a season-opening victory.Playing the highest ranked team in their history, the Bison missed an incredible 16 of 17 free throws, including all eight in the final 7:34, and the Spartans won 64-52 Friday night."They should've beat us," the Spartans' Alan Anderson said. "And they would've if they made more free throws."Paul Davis scored 21 points to pace Michigan State, which trailed 50-49 with just under seven minutes left but closed with a 15-2 run.Bucknell's Kevin Bettencourt scored 21 points, including five 3-pointers, but was 0-for-3 from the line."It's tough," Bettencourt said. "This is an opportunity we don't get every night."Donald Brown made Bucknell's only free throw with 2:28 left in the first half. Bucknell missed its final four free-throw attempts before halftime, and all eight in the second half.Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was disgusted with his team's effort. The Spartans outrebounded Bucknell 42-39 but often allowed the Bison to take uncontested shots."Teams that play hard usually win, and this is the softest team we've had in the nine years I've been here," Izzo said. "We are soft."Bettencourt made the first basket of the second half -- his fourth 3-pointer -- to put the Bison ahead for the first time after they trailed by eight in the first half.Michigan State, which was 12-of-17 from the line, did not regain the lead until Davis made two free throws with 9:36 left. The lead changed four times over the next five minutes.Davis scored five points in the last three minutes to help the Spartans win their 27th consecutive season opener.Bucknell coach Pat Flannery said Michigan State may have taken his team lightly, but missed free throws ended any chance of an upset."When you don't make free throws, the flow of the game just gets away from you," he said. "And then the kids get scared to shoot free throws."Chris Hill had 12 points and seven assists for the Spartans. Reserves Maurice Ager scored nine points and Shannon Brown added eight in his Michigan State debut.Chris Niesz had eight points and was the only Bucknell player other than Bettencourt to scored more than four.Michigan State knew it had a tough nonconference schedule, but it didn't expect Bucknell to be part of it."I don't think we were looking ahead, but it seemed like that the way we played," Anderson said.The Spartans play at Kansas on Tuesday and face Duke, Oklahoma, UCLA and Syracuse before the Big Ten season starts.Michigan State started in spectacular fashion, with a well-executed play off the tip that ended with Kelvin Torbert's alley-oop dunk.The Spartans built an early lead, but Bucknell went on a 10-3 run to pull within 31-30. Michigan State led 33-32 at halftime."We tried not to think about all the hype," Bettencourt said. "We knew anything could happen. We were prepared to be up with six minutes left. I know a lot of people probably find that hard to believe, but all we needed was a couple bounces here or there."