CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The Citadel's players kept hitting 3-pointers, and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was left asking anyone around the same question.
"Could you be any dumber than I am?" he said, in reference to bringing his 12th-ranked Spartans to McAlister Field House.
But Michigan State (7-2) bailed out its longtime coach, Kalin Lucas scoring 17 points and the Spartans picking up their defense down the stretch in a 69-56 victory Monday night.
Izzo agreed to the game years ago in a deal with his friend, former Citadel athletic director Les Robinson.
The Bulldogs (6-5) nearly made Izzo and the Spartans look foolish, using a 12-of-20 performance from behind the arc to keep things tighter than anyone expected.
"I'm not sure I've been in games where both teams made 12 3s," Izzo said.
The Spartans figured to have an easier time in their second trip South in less than a week. Michigan State fell at North Carolina 89-82 on Dec. 1. But the Spartans didn't count on the long-range threat from the Bulldogs, who made their first seven 3s.
"That kind of let them know we were here to play," said Zach Urbanus, who hit four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points for the Citadel.
Michigan State found its defense at the end, holding the Bulldogs to two baskets over the last eight minutes to pull away.
Cameron Wells had 16 points to lead the Citadel, which fell to 0-34 all-time against ranked opponents.
"I was like, 'Oh my God. They're not missing,"' Lucas said. "But we just kept fighting."
Raymar Morgan had 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Spartans, who have won all three games they've played against the Bulldogs.
Not that it was easy.
Urbanus' basket with 8:16 left pulled the Citadel to 56-51 and looked to set up a tight finish.
Korie Lucious came back with a 3-pointer for Michigan State, and Morgan put back Chris Allen's miss to make it 61-51.
The Bulldogs could not answer.
Izzo had his players and staff walk around campus earlier Monday, soaking up the military college's atmosphere of service.
"I think it helps give you an appreciation of what people that really sacrifice are all about," the coach said.
The Bulldogs hadn't hosted a ranked team from a power conference since Tim Duncan and then-No. 3 Wake Forest won 86-52 on Nov. 25, 1996.
With Michigan State, the Bulldogs pulled out as many stops as they could. Coach Ed Conroy's famous cousin, author Pat Conroy, signed copies of his latest novel, South of Broad, before the game. Pat's jersey from his Citadel playing days, a subject of his 2002 memoir My Losing Season, was raffled off to fans.
The school's Corps of Cadets filled the stands surrounding the tunnel to Michigan State's locker room and loudly taunted the Spartans throughout.
Then it was the Bulldogs' turn to rattle Michigan State.
The Citadel, a so-so 35 percent on 3-point attempts coming in, hit its first seven tries -- including four in a row -- from behind the line.
Still, the Spartans looked on their way to taking control, pulling ahead 35-29 on Chris Allen's jumper with 3:22 to go before the half.
But Wells finished a three-point play and Urbanus hit the Bulldogs' eighth 3 of the half to tie it.
Several hundred green-shirted Michigan State fans, expecting an easy blowout, instead stood nervously for much of the period as the Citadel kept it close.
Austin Thornton's putback sent Michigan State to the break with a 40-36 lead.
The Citadel continued shooting well from long range in the second half, with Urbanus and Cosmo Morabbi each hitting 3s to cut the lead to 47-45.
"They were hitting 3s, but we didn't panic," Morgan added. "We kept with our offense and kept executing."