Michigan State moves past USC in NCAA Tournament opening round

Spartans defense prevails in opening round win.
Michigan State beats USC in NCAA Tourney opening round
Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 7:00 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ohio. (AP) - Upset with the officials and his team’s defense, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo angrily snapped a white board in half during a timeout.

“It felt damn good,” Izzo cracked.

The Spartans broke Southern California soon after.

Joey Hauser scored 17 points and No. 7 seed Michigan State clamped down defensively on No. 10 seed USC in the second half on Thursday for a 72-62 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament’s East Region.

Izzo’s Spartans (20-12) will face the winner of the Vermont-Marquette matchup on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16. Marquette coach Shaka Smart sat on press row for part of the second half to get a closer look at what could be his next opponent.

Smart watched as Michigan State got more physical after halftime to muzzle the streaky Trojans (22-11), who were knocked out in the tournament’s first round for the second straight year.

Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins added 12 points apiece for Michigan State, which held USC to 34% shooting in the second half. It felt like every possession was a challenge for the Trojans, who only stayed within range with some late 3-pointers and atrocious late free-throw shooting by Michigan State.

The Spartans missed six straight from the line during one stretch while trying to close it out and finished 15 of 25 overall.

“It was a bad day,” Walker said when Izzo asked him to comment on the misfires.

“Well said,” added the coach.

Joshua Morgan scored 14 and Kobe Johnson 13 to lead USC.

Michigan State, appearing in its 25th straight tournament under Izzo, will move on in what has been a unique and challenging season for the Spartans. The team became the face of a grief-stricken school after a gunman killed three students and injured five others in a campus shooting on Feb. 13.

Following his 54th win in the NCAA Tournament, Izzo said he’s savoring every moment of this March.

“I’m not taking too much for granted anymore,” Izzo said. “It’s too crazy of a world.”

Playing in Big Ten country, and backed by a crowd wearing even more green on St. Patrick’s Day, the Spartans took control in the second half by leaning on their defense, which hasn’t been up to Michigan State standards of late.

“We got our mojo back,” Izzo said. “We talked about it for two or three weeks. But no secret that I haven’t been pleased with our defense. And I’d say 32 or 33 minutes I thought it was exceptional.”

A.J. Hoggard’s steal and layup put Michigan State ahead 58-49, and Spartans center Mady Sissoko followed with a monstrous block on USC’s next possession.

By then, the Trojans were out of sync, and they fell into a bigger hole when Hauser and Jaden Akins buried consecutive 3-pointers as Michigan State’s lead swelled to 66-51 with 4:23 left.

Johnson knocked down two 3s to pull USC within nine, but the Trojans were unable to get any closer.

The Spartans will get second-seeded Marquette on Sunday in the Round of 32, after the Golden Eagles handled Vermont 78-61.

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