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Michigan State men’s basketball wins paint battle, bests physical Mississippi State in Round of 64

March 21, 2024

Michigan State faced off with Mississippi State University in round one of March Madness in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 21, 2024. The Spartans dominated the Mississippi State Bulldogs, maintaining a lead throughout the entire game, with a final score of 69-51.

In a season when Michigan State’s men’s basketball team has been anything but consistent, the Spartans led off 2024 March Madness with a statement of physicality and energy

A thorough, 18-point drubbing of No. 8 seed Mississippi State showed that this Michigan State group has more to it than what many thought and, when humming, can execute the core principles of Spartan basketball to a tee

Michigan State men's basketball head coach Tom Izzo looked on in satisfaction as his squad defended, rebounded and ran its way to an assertive 69-51 win over a Mississippi State team that posed a great deal of challenges for the Spartans in the paint.

“That’s a good basketball team that I thought we made look not as good,” Izzo said after the win. “That’s what happens when you play defense and you rebound.”

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Michigan State outrebounded the Bulldogs 35-29, a margin deflated by a spurt of Mississippi State offensive rebounds in the late going. The Spartans controlled the glass for nearly the entire game, surrendering just seven second-chance points to a Bulldog group that furiously rebounds, particularly on the offensive end. 

Defensively, the Spartans were outstanding. Guards Tyson Walker, AJ Hoggard and Jaden Akins won the collective battle against the Bulldogs’ Josh Hubbard – a freshman guard who’s lit up SEC teams all season long. Hubbard scored just 15 points on 6-for-18 shooting, 3-for-11 from long range. In the second half, Michigan State held Hubbard to 2 points on 1-for-9 shooting. 

For Michigan State, Walker scored an efficient 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Akins tallied 15 points and seven rebounds while looking every bit like a game-changer on both ends of the floor — something that’s come and gone over the course of the season

After the game, Izzo had high praise for Akins and his competitiveness in all phases of the game, calling it his best performance as a Spartan

“He defended it, he rebounded it, he shot it and he even passed it” Izzo said. “It was no question (it was) Jaden Akins’ best game here at Michigan State and (it) couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m really happy for him. He deserves what he got.”

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Michigan State's center group, which Izzo sees as “work by committee," did its job against Mississippi State’s power forwards and centers, but Michigan State was always going to need a comprehensive effort on the glass to match up with the Bulldogs. Izzo’s guards did their part by staying active around the rim

Akins’ effort on the glass was the most notable. Multiple times, he skied above Bulldog defenders and disrupted them on rebound attempts, earning extra possessions for his team

“The guards had to come back and help. That was the big part,” Walker said. “Bigs, we knew they were going to be battling, boxing out, trying to keep (the Bulldogs) off the glass, so we just had to come clean it up.”

Though Izzo is regarded as an old-school, rough-and-tumble coach who’s had success for 29 years wearing teams down physically, this year’s Michigan State squad has had inconsistencies in its defensive and interior efforts. The Spartans were simply outplayed on the glass early in a 4-5 start to the season and have lacked the defensive energy they need at times

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Nonetheless, Michigan State advanced — a credit to its work on defense and the glass against a physically imposing Mississippi State team on Thursday

“That’s kind of our motto, just being physical, doing the dirty work,” Walker said. “You just got to do it."

Izzo said that the team did "a hell of a job" in a "tough, rugged game" through the 40 minutes, bringing an intensity that hasn't been present throughout this season.

The Spartans now turn to Saturday, when they’ll square off against No. 1 seed University of North Carolina. The Tar Heels, while playing in a relatively weak ACC this season, are made up to make noise in this tournament. Their two-man game featuring R.J. Davis and Armando Bacot has NCAA Tournament experience – both players reached the National Championship with UNC in 2022 as an 8-seed, where they fell to Kansas by three points

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Regardless, Izzo and his team have a little under 48 hours to prepare for the ACC champion playing just 140 miles from home in Chapel Hill. Now, they know they’re capable of emerging victorious in a tough matchup. If the Spartans bring the same type of intensity and physicality as they did Thursday, they can play against just about any team.

No. 9 Michigan State and No. 1 North Carolina will play on Saturday, March 23 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina for a spot in the Sweet 16. Tip-off is at 5:30 p.m. and CBS will air the game.

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