March Madness: 17-0 run sparks No. 1 North Carolina past No. 9 Michigan State into Sweet 16

Michigan State punched first Saturday in a battle of NCAA tournament-tested programs.

But it was North Carolina’s counterpunch that decided the game.

The Tar Heels responded to an early 26-14 hole with a 17-0 run to take control of the first half. North Carolina finished the half on a 23-3 run to take a 40-31 lead en route to an 85-69 win.

Michigan State responded in the second half with an 11-2 run to cut North Carolina’s lead to 48-46. But the Tar Heels never relinquished the lead. Carolina pulled away late as Michigan State ran out of answers to UNC’s hot 3-point shooting and aggressive defense.

The victory secured a trip to the Sweet 16 for North Carolina, which improved to 6-0 all-time against Michigan State in NCAA tournament play. It will face the winner between Alabama and Grand Canyon next weekend.

North Carolina’s veterans led the way. Senior guard RJ Davis pushed the first-half UNC run to 15-0 with a transition 3-pointer that extended UNC’s lead to 32-28, sending a friendly Charlotte home crowd into a frenzy.

The ACC Player of the Year led the Tar Heels with 20 points. He shot 7 of 15 from the field including 3 of 7 from 3-point distance.

Harrison Ingram hit 5 3-pointers to help sink the Spartans. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Harrison Ingram hit 5 3-pointers to help sink the Spartans. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Junior Harrison Ingram hit three of North Carolina’s six made 3-pointers during the first-half run, including a bucket to close out first-half scoring with 10 seconds remaining. His fifth 3-pointer of the game spun around the rim before dropping in and extended UNC’s lead to 69-57 with 6:18 remaining.

The bucket prompted a Michigan State timeout, and the Spartans never threatened again. Ingram finished with 17 points and seven rebounds while shooting 5 of 7 from 3-point distance.

The do-it-all forward has been a revelation for North Carolina since transferring from Stanford this season. He was pivotal in UNC’s run to a No. 1 seed and delivered on Saturday with a trip to the tournament’s second weekend at stake.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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