Bulldogs bounced by Michigan State in first round of NCAA Tournament

Published 3:20 pm Thursday, March 21, 2024

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo won his 20th first-round game in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.

This one, he said, might have been the most impressive, even to former Spartans greats like Draymond Green.

Tyson Walker scored 19 points and the ninth-seeded Spartans improved to 20-6 in March Madness openers under Izzo with a 69-51 win over eighth-seeded Mississippi State. It was Izzo’s 26th straight NCAA Tournament appearance — an NCAA Division I record for a coach at one school.

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“I thought this was one of the better first game performances of a team that was, and deservedly so, seeded a little lower,” Izzo said. “We brought everything from the get-go. We moved the ball well. We shot the ball well. We rebounded the ball.”

Izzo’s win was his 56th overall in the tournament, trailing only three coaches for victories at one school. He noted that while the game was sloppy at times, former players Green, Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson would have enjoyed the “tough, rugged nature” of the Spartans’ win.

Jaden Akins added 15 points and seven rebounds, and Malik Hall scored 10 points for Michigan State (20-14), which will face top-seeded North Carolina on Saturday.

Akins believes having Izzo on the bench is a huge advantage because of the adjustments he makes.

“Coach has been in this situation,” Akins said. “He always talks about experience is the best thing to have, and he has a lot of that in this tournament. So we’ve got all the faith in him to put us in a position, and we just got to go out and do what we do.”

Freshman Josh Hubbard scored 15 points for Mississippi State (21-14), which hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2008. It also lost in the First Four last season.

This was the first time since 2008-09 that the Bulldogs made the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons.

“Who knows what the future holds? Obviously we went from an 11 seed to an 8 seed. We talked about that in that locker room as well. This group of men that have been here, they’re going to be remembered,” Mississippi State coach Chris Jans said. “They’ve done a lot of things in the last two years that this program hasn’t for quite some time with the quality of wins and the tournament appearances.”

Hubbard was limited to two points in the second half as the Spartans wouldn’t let the Bulldogs’ young standout shake free.

“They were heavy in the gaps, strong hands, scraping at the ball. We didn’t really do that good of a job ourselves of moving the ball and moving off the ball as well,” Hubbard said. “We could have done better. Yeah, great credit to them for how they played defense.”

Both teams entered the tournament having lost five of seven games.

The Spartans, who led wire to wire, pushed the tempo early and jumped out to a 20-8 lead after hitting 4 of 7 shots from beyond the arc, including two from Walker.

“You have to give credit to Michigan State, but we put ourselves in some tough spots with our turnovers and got off to a really poor start,” Jans said.

The Bulldogs closed the gap to seven at halftime, 31-24, behind Hubbard.
But the Spartans began to pull away early in the second half, extending the lead to 14 with the help of Walker, who finished 7-of-12 from the field.

Down by double digits midway through the second half, the Bulldogs went to a half-court trap and found some success at first, turning over the Spartans twice. But Michigan State quickly settled down. Xavier Booker and Tre Holloman hit 3s before Walker connected on another 3 from the right wing to push the lead to 17 with less than five minutes to go.

“We always go over our press breakers,” Walker said. “We call it special teams. Just being prepared. Just knowing where you’re supposed to be.”

As the Bulldogs were attempting to make a late comeback, the Spartans corralled two offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive and burn time off the clock.

Mississippi State was 2-for-14 from 3-point range in the second half.

“We actually ended up playing quite a bit variations of different zones, especially in the second half, but it didn’t slow them down that much,” Jans said. “Then we shot way more 3s obviously in the second half trying to mount a comeback, more than anything.”

Michigan State held a 35-29 edge on the glass.

“The game was won with rebounding,” Izzo said.