It started with a hook shot in the lane by Derrick Nix for the game’s opening points.
A high-flying blocked shot from sophomore guard Branden Dawson first brought the crowd to its feet.
And an authoritative one-handed fast break dunk by Keith Appling, who threw it down while being fouled, drew the first “oohs” and “aahs” from a captivated crowd of 6,589 fans.
It was a different feel in a different home venue for the No. 19 MSU men’s basketball team, as the Spartans (9-2) celebrated a return to Jenison Field House by blowing out Division II Tuskegee (1-5) 92-56 in front of a crowd made up of more families and fewer students than the traditional Izzone-dominated Breslin Center.
The game was played in Jenison Field House to commemorate the “Game of Change” nearly 50 years ago, when the stadium hosted an NCAA Tournament game between Loyola-Chicago and Mississippi State, in which Mississippi State had to sneak out of its state to play an integrated basketball game during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
The atmosphere was one Appling said he enjoyed, adding his highlight reel dunk was his most vicious since high school.
“I never thought I’d get to play in the stadium where Magic Johnson and all the other MSU greats played,” the junior guard said. “I wanted to remain focused, but I could have smiled for the whole 40 minutes of the game.”
Appling was one of four Spartans to score in double figures, tying his career-high with 25 points, while centers Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne each tallied double-doubles.
MSU jumped out to an early 16-4 lead, feeding off the energy of the crowd, before a series of sloppy plays and poor passing allowed Tuskegee to find a comfort zone.
The Golden Tigers rattled off a 15-4 surge, capped off by a 3-pointer from junior forward Jacob Pettway, to pull within two points, 23-21, with 4:42 remaining in the first half.
But the game turned into the lopsided affair many expected as soon as the second half got underway, as MSU used a 14-1 run to blow the game open, moving in front 53-35 with 13:19 remaining, forcing a Tuskegee timeout.
From that point on the Spartans never led by fewer than 15 points and saw their lead balloon to as many as 36 points, in part because of the newfound aggressive offensive mindset of Nix, who finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds and was regularly calling for the ball.
“He said he thought he was going hard in the first half,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said of Nix. “… Second half he asked to come out twice. I said, ‘You haven’t asked to come out in two years.’ You can say that’s because he’s fatigued. To me, it’s because he went hard. I love when a guy asks to come out.”
Nix has struggled to find the right balance between passing and shooting in the season’s early going, frequently passing more than he should while battling what he described as a shooting slump.
He even received welcomed advice from Tuskegee head coach Leon Douglas — a former center and top-five pick of the Detroit Pistons in 1976 — before the game. Nix said he’s starting to turn a corner.
“It’s all about passion. I’m just more passionate and looking to be successful,” Nix said.
“I feel like I was in an offensive slump, I couldn’t make a jump hook and I didn’t make one today, but they all felt good coming off (my hand) and that’s just something I’ve got to do on a consistent basis.”