Nine-seeded Michigan State takes care of business against Mississippi State in Round of 64, 69-51

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Ethan Hunter

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – “Go Green. Go White. Go Green. Go White.”

Echoing off the walls of the Spectrum Center, Michigan State fans chanted for their team as the minutes waned away to begin the first game of this years March Madness tournament. 

A season full of ‘what-ifs’ and ‘oh nos’ left itself behind on the opening day of the 2024 NCAA Tournament, as head coach Tom Izzo made his way up to the podium, guards Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins by his side, fresh off a 69-51 win in the Round of 64 to move Izzo’s first round record to 20-5.

Led by Akins, who provided the Spartans with 15 points on 6-14 shooting, dropped in three triples, and hunted down rebounds like a pack of wolves, the Spartans punched first and never really allowed Mississippi State to get back on its feet. 

“I think it was [Akins] best game three-dimensionally,” Izzo said. “He defended it. He rebounded it. He shot it. And he even passed it some. There was no question it was Jaden Akins’s best game here at Michigan State, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”

To add to Akins already stellar performance, he gave the fans that made the trip another gift other than a victory, as he took two dribbles, rose vertical, and threw down a highlight reel dunk over Mississippi State freshman stud Josh Hubbard, giving Michigan State both unmatched momentum and a double-digit lead halfway through the second half. 

Along with Akins, Tyson Walker shot lights out, scoring 19 and going 7-12 from the field, including 3-6 from three-point range. Walker added two assists, three rebounds, and made it abundantly clear that when the Michigan State backcourt is playing at a high level, this team is more than capable of being the team it was projected to be in the preseason. 

Michigan State utilized rebounding and physicality to out-muscle the Bulldogs of Mississippi State, a trait that Mississippi State players said was what Michigan State fans should know about their team.

“Defense, rebounding, and toughness,” Mississippi State senior guard Shakeel Moore said about themselves. 

Michigan State’s ability to corral loose rebounds and fight for contested boards revolved around senior center Mady Sissoko. Sissoko, once a starter for Michigan State, showed up when Michigan State needed him most, collecting nine rebounds and giving the maximum effort while he was on the court. 

“He’s had three really good games in a row in a lot of ways,” Izzo said. “I love when players get what they work for.”

After a win that certainly will give the Spartans the jolt of confidence they needed, Michigan State now faces the West Region’s No. 1 seed, the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Round of 32. There is no tip-off scheduled, however the game will be played Saturday, Mar. 23. 

While Michigan State may have come in as the underdog, Tom Izzo and the Spartans will not be overlooked by a team like the Tar Heels. North Carolina will get Michigan State’s very best. Izzo knows his seniors aren’t quite ready for the plane ride back to East Lansing. 

“I think I’ve got some seniors that don’t want to go home yet, and they played like it.”

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