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 of Alabama and Grand Canyon next weekend in Los Angeles.

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. He was one of four Tar Heels to score in double figures.

Harrison Ingram delivers again

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.

Armando Bacot added 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists while frequently looking to kick the ball out to open shooters. The Tar Heels delivered when they were open, connecting on 10 of 26 3-pointers (38.5%) while shooting 46.7% from the field.

The Spartans also shot well from beyond the arc but at a lower clip, connecting on 6 of 16 (37.5%) attempts. All Big-Ten guard Tyson Walker led the Spartans effort with 24 points. Malik Hall added 17 points and nine rebounds. Both played their last game with Michigan State as fifth-year seniors.

Michigan State won the rebounding battle, 37-32. But on a day when North Carolina took care of the ball (five turnovers) and shot well from inside and out, the Spartans couldn't keep up.