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'Big Ten Country,' MSU men's hoops makes trip to familiar stomping grounds for First Four matchup

March 16, 2021

Junior guard Aaron Henry's 20-point performance helped the Spartans avoid a Penn State comeback in the final minutes.

In the NCAA Tournament bubble, the Michigan State men’s basketball team spends most of their time in two places: their single bedrooms or the film and food room downstairs. That goes with exception of hallway stretch sessions Head Coach Tom Izzo plans to keep the team together.

“It’s not a bad bubble — we’re at the J.W. Marriott — there’s been worst bubbles but it’s different,” Izzo said. “You can’t really go outside for a walk or anything like that.”

But Tuesday afternoon the team ventured on an hour and 15 minute road trip from the J.W. Marriott in Indianapolis to Mackey Arena in West Lafayette to practice on the court they will compete at against UCLA on Thursday.

Mackey, home of the Purdue Boilermakers, is familiar territory for MSU and Izzo acknowledged this. 

“At least you’re in Big Ten country, they were all nice,” Izzo said, adding that he called Purdue Head Coach Matt Painter for an invite to brunch.

“You (Purdue) beat me twice this year, you owe me that,” he joked.

However, familiar territory comes with a catch.

MSU has lost their last five outings at Mackey, including a 75-65 defeat on Feb. 16 of this year. The last time the Spartans won in the arena was on Feb. 20, 2014.

NCAA staff transformed the arena from a Boilermaker home to a March Madness court that will serve as the venue for the second play-in game of the Big Dance.

“Just being able to be in an area that we are familiar with, I don’t want to say it gives us a leg up or anything like that but definitely some territory that we know, the floor feels like we know,” Henry said. “Any area you can be comfortable in and that you know, you’ll feel better about yourself and you’ll feel better about preparation.”

Regardless, Thursday’s First Four matchup won’t come against the usual Mackey opponent. Instead, the Spartans will face UCLA, a team they have seen, and beat, during their last two seasons.

“You can say that,” Henry said about Purdue’s familiar stomping grounds. “But we still have to come ready to play.”

Both Izzo and Henry voiced a level of excitement for tournament play to begin, especially given the extent that March Madness has been anticipated over the past year.

“The best part of all is I’ve got about 15 guys here who get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament," Izzo said. "You take that for granted at Michigan State but you really take it for granted until you don’t play one last year.”

MSU will face UCLA on Thursday at 9:57 P.M. The game will be broadcast on TBS.

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