Tom Izzo, Michigan State pick up another first-round win in March Madness, topping Mississippi State

Michigan State guard A.J. Hoggard celebrates with guard Jaden Akins (3) during the first half of a first-round college basketball game against Mississippi State in the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Michigan State guard A.J. Hoggard celebrates with guard Jaden Akins (3) during the first half of a first-round college basketball game against Mississippi State in the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

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 on Thursday. It was Izzo’s 26th straight NCAA Tournament appearance — an NCAA Division I record for a coach at one school.

“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 the Mississippi State (21-14), which hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2021. Hubbard was limited to two points in the second half as the Spartans wouldn’t let the Bulldogs’ young standout shake free.

“I think just trying to make every catch, be there on every catch, every shot contested,” Walker said of defending Hubbard. “First half he got it going. Then we kind of second half just locked in more and contested every shot he took, made sure they were further out, not let him get any easy ones.”

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 an 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,” Bulldogs coach Chris Jans said.

The Bulldogs closed the gap to seven at halftime 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.

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

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

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: This was the high point of a topsy-turvy season for the Spartans, who were ranked No. 4 in the preseason but lost to James Madison in their opener and went on to drop five of their first nine games. Michigan State improved as it entered Big Ten play, winning eight of 10 at one point before its late-season swoon. The Spartans’ perimeter defense was suspect coming into the game, but they held the Bulldogs to 6-of-27 shooting from beyond the arc.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs wanted to play at a slower tempo, but were forced to speed up after falling behind early. Poor shooting hurt, but so did a lack of rebounding.

UP NEXT

The Tar Heels will have a significant home-court advantage over Michigan State. UNC’s home arena is less than a two-hour drive away.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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