MEMPHIS, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Even without Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson, defending champion Michigan State is the only Final Four team from a year ago to return to the "Sweet 16" of the NCAA Tournament.
Riding their usual balanced attack and dominant work on the boards, the top-seeded Spartans rolled to an 81-65 victory over Fresno State in a second-round South Region game at The Pyramid.
Michigan State (26-4) will meet 12th-seeded Gonzaga in the regional semifinals Friday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
"There isn't as much pressure on us," said Michigan State guard Charlie Bell, who finished with 13 points. "I think everybody thinks Stanford and Duke are the favorites like us and Duke were last year. We're just trying to go out there and prove to the country that we're still the defending national champs until somebody knocks us off." With North Carolina and Florida losing second-round tournament games in the South Region on Sunday and Wisconsin falling in the first round, the Spartans are the only 2000 Final Four team still alive.
The other teams left in Michigan State's region are seventh-seeded Penn State, which knocked off North Carolina, and 11th-seeded Temple, which ousted Florida.
"There are not many teams that can beat them," said Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian. "The only teams that I think can beat them would be teams like Duke and Stanford." Coach Tom Izzo improved his NCAA Tournament record to 14-2 and is hoping to lead Michigan State to its third straight trip to the Final Four. With Cleaves, the team captain at point guard, and Peterson, the leading scorer, the Spartans won their first national championship since 1979 last season.
This time, Michigan State is seeking to repeat with balanced scoring, its trademark tenacious defense and aggressive work off the boards since they do not possess go-to guys such as Cleaves and Peterson. The formula worked on Sunday as the Spartans featured five players in double figures, held Fresno State (26-7) to 17 points less than their season average and outrebounded the Bulldogs, 48-32.
"Our guys laid it on the line today," Izzo said. "I thought we played great defense. They did not shoot the ball as well as they do. I think it was a combination of both." Bell and Al Anagonye had 13 points apiece, Andre Hutson scored 12, freshman Marcus Taylor had 11 off the bench and David Thomas collected 10 points and 14 rebounds for the Spartans.
Jason Richardson, Michigan State's leading scorer at 15.5 points per game, missed 8-of-11 shots and finished with nine points.
Center Melvin Ely led Fresno State with 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting, but the rest of the starters had problems dealing with Michigan State's physical style of play and combined to shoot 12-of-45 from the field.
"It was a very physical game," Ely said. "They kept two big fresh guys on me the whole game. Nobody in the WAC (Western Athletic Conference) plays that physical a game. Michigan State does it well." Senior guard Demetrius Porter, who led the Bulldogs with a career-high 27 points in a first-round win over California, was hounded by Richardson and missed 7-of-8 shots and finished with six points.
"They made it hard to get the outside shots which disrupted the rhythm of the game for me," Porter said. "It was hard to get an open shot with those guys. I tried my hardest to get through the screens but it was ust too hard because of their size." Chris Jeffries had 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting and Tito Maddox added 11 on 4-of-16 shooting for the Bulldogs.
Michigan State is attempting to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since Duke won in 1991-92.
Mike Chappell scored seven points off the bench and Anagonye and Hutson had six apiece in the first half when the Spartans built a 37-30 lead.
"Mike came in and made some plays that really sparked us," Hutson said. "Al was big down low and he had to bang Ely all night and yet he was still in there rebounding and getting putbacks." Michigan State shot a sizzling 57 percent from the field in the second half and opened the lead to as many as 17 points.
Chappell, Anagonye and Bell combined for 13 points when the Spartans raced to a 20-9 lead in the first eight minutes.
A dunk and a free throw by Ely, a layup by Damon Jackson and a dunk by Shane Swillis helped Fresno State pull within 22-16.
But Michigan State responded with a 12-4 run as freshman Zach Randolph made a pair of layups and Taylor, Bell, Hutson and Chappell each had a basket, opening a 34-20 advantage with 4:58 left.
Fresno State closed the half with a 10-3 spurt as Maddox hit two jumpers and a layup.
The Bulldogs pulled within 41-36 after a pair of free throws by Maddox with 17:36 left. But the Spartans responded with an 11-4 run as Bell hit a jumper, a layup and a 3-pointer, opening a 52-40 advantage.
A jumper by Bell gave the Spartans their biggest lead at 73-56 with 5:08 left.