COLUMBUS, Ohio – 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.
“In the second half, a couple possessions we went one-on-one too much instead of playing basketball the way we were capable of,” Trojans coach Andy Enfield said. “And then missed some wide-open, timely shots.”
Izzo showed his soft, nurturing side, especially when he helped his team and the school cope following the tragedy.
However, he didn’t like being described as a “teddy bear.”
And while he’s not as fiery these days, the 68-year-old is still demanding of his players.
“I look in the mirror a lot,” he said, “and sometimes I don’t like what I see in me. And I let the players know that. So maybe the terror side will come out again. I had a parent tell me something two days ago that I really enjoyed: ‘Coach my kid, the hell with the outside stuff. Coach my kid.’
“So I’m coaching them. So hopefully I bring that with me this weekend and hopefully our team responds.”
USC: The Trojans got a taste of what life will be like when they join the Big 10 in two years. This wasn’t their style of game as the officials allowed some hand-checking and maybe more contact than USC is accustomed to.
Michigan State: Following an uneven regular season, the Spartans look to be playing their tough brand of ball.