EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State extended its season-best winning streak to four games on Thursday afternoon, defeating Cleveland State 2-1 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Spartans were propelled by a goal and an assist from both Adam Montague and Nick Wilson, and another solid performance in net from Zach Bennett, improving their record to 12-9-1 on the season and advancing them to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Cleveland State completes its season with an 11-6-3 overall record.
Montague got the Spartan scoring started in the 13th minute. Nick Wilson made an outstanding defensive play, stealing the ball on a slide tackle and then crossing it into the box from the right side. His pass found Montague, who headed it over Cleveland State goalie Brad Stuver and into the top right corner of the net. The goal was Montague’s fourth in as many games and eighth on the season, and it gave Michigan State the early 1-0 lead.
MSU extended its lead in the 20th minute to open up a two- goal margin. A free kick from just inside the midfield line found the head of Kevin Cope who played the ball to Montague. Montague held off a Viking defender and cleared enough space to get a shot on net. His shot was saved but deflected to the middle of the box, where Nick Wilson got his foot on the ball and sent it into the wide-open net.
Goalkeeper Zach Bennett made four saves on the afternoon, but none bigger than his stop on a penalty kick in the 70th minute. Cleveland State was awarded the kick after a foul in the box. Admir Suljevic, who took the kick for the Vikings, stuttered before sending in a shot toward the lower right corner of the net. Bennett made the read, and made a diving save, sending the ball back into play on the right side. Aaron Adkins had an attempt at a goal off of Bennett’s big stop, but his shot was blocked by Kevin Cope and sent out of bounds, ending the Vikings chance and preserving MSU’s two-goal lead.
“I thought I got a pretty good read on it, but I didn’t want to tip [Suljevic] off and have him change it up,” commented Bennett on his impressive PK save. “Then, as he always does, Kevin Cope comes in out of nowhere and cleared it away. That was big for us.”
Bennett’s save on the penalty kick proved to be even more significant as Cleveland State cut the Spartan lead to one goal with just over three minutes remaining. This is the fourth game in a row that Michigan State has allowed a goal with under seven minutes to play. Christian Arboleda netted the score in the 87th minute off a scramble in front, pulling the visitors within a tally.
“The thing to remember is that while we’ve allowed these late goals, we’ve played some really good teams,” explained Bennett post-game. “Obviously, we want to get a shutout, but these are teams that are going to continue to push until the end. Its hard to shut out a team for 90 minutes.”
Today’s win improved MSU’s record to 5-5-1 at home this season, and prevents a sub-.500 record at home for the first time since 1989. MSU has gone 9-3-0 since October 1.
Michigan State advances to the second round for the second time in three seasons, and will take on overall No. 1 seed Notre Dame in South Bend on Sunday at 2 p.m.