COLUMBUS, Ohio – Tom Izzo leaned on star guard and native New Yorker Tyson Walker to get Michigan State to Madison Square Garden for the Sweet 16.
Walker, a fourth-year player who grew up in Westbury on Long Island, delivered against Marquette in March Madness on Sunday night, scoring 23 points and punctuating Michigan State’s 69-60 victory with a steal and his first ever collegiate dunk late in the game.
And Walker wants to make sure his 68-year-old, Hall of Fame coach has a quintessential Big Apple experience.
“It means everything,” said Walker, who played two years at Northeastern before transferring to Michigan State. “Just growing up, seeing everything, playing at the Garden. Just to make those shots, look over see my dad, see how excited he was. That means everything. And I just owe Coach some pizza now. And a cab ride.”
Joey Hauser – a Marquette transfer – had 14 points and A.J. Hoggard had 13 as seventh-seeded Michigan State (21-12) took over in the last three minutes. The Spartans advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in four years and will play third-seeded Kansas State in the East Region semifinals on Thursday.
“I’ve been in Elite Eight games; I’ve been in the Final Four – that was as intense and tough a game as I’ve been in my career,” Izzo said. “And a lot of credit goes to Marquette and (coach) Shaka (Smart) and how they played, too.”
Izzo reached his 15th regional semifinal and won his record 16th March Madness game with a lower-seeded team – one more than Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, who retired after this season.
This one was particularly meaningful. Izzo became the face of a grieving school where three students were killed in a campus shooting on Feb. 13.
“It’s been a long year,” an emotional Izzo said in a courtside interview. “I’m just happy for our guys.”
Olivier-Maxence Prosper led second-seeded Marquette (29-7) with 16 points and Kam Jones had 14 points, including three 3-pointers, for the Big East champions.
Michigan State led by as many as 12 in the first half, but Ben Gold and Prosper made back-to-back 3-pointers to help the Golden Eagles close within 33-28 at halftime.
Prosper hit two more 3s in the first minute of the second half to give Marquette its first lead of the day. Michigan State grabbed back the lead with an 8-0 run and didn’t relinquish it.
Back-to-back baskets in the paint by Hoggard and then Walker, both times as the shot clock expired, gave the Spartans a 60-55 lead with 2:20 left. Mady Sissoko then blocked shots on consecutive Marquette possessions, and Walker had a steal followed by a game-sealing dunk with 39 seconds left.
Marquette’s nine-game winning streak ended, concluding a season in which the Golden Eagles exceeded expectations under coach Smart, who has referred to Izzo as a mentor.
Michigan State, meanwhile, finished fourth in the Big Ten but appears to be improving at the right time.
“We’ve still got some dancing to do,” Izzo said. “And we’re going to New York. I couldn’t be more excited for Tyson and even A.J., being a Philly guy.
“After watching the tournament, it doesn’t matter who we play, when we play, where we play, or how, it’s going to be a hell of a game. And I’m looking forward to it.”
Marquette: Coming off their first Big East Tournament title, the Golden Eagles dominated Vermont in the first round of March Madness, but Michigan State was a much tougher opponent. The Golden Eagles committed 11 of their 16 turnovers in the second half, and those giveaways led to 19 Spartans points.
“I thought (Michigan State) played with great aggressiveness, particularly early in the game and at the very end of the game,” Smart said. “And those two the stretches were the difference in the outcome of the game.”
Michigan State: The Spartans came out of their shooting funk after the halfway point of the second half and pulled away. They made 15 of their 17 free throws after halftime.
Tyler Kolek, the Big East Player of the Year, injured his thumb when he caught it on the jersey of a Vermont player in the opening round Friday night.
He finished that game with eight points. He wasn’t much of a factor against Michigan State, either, scoring seven points, losing six turnovers and committing four fouls.
Kolek insisted the thumb “wasn’t an issue at all.”
“Just trying to be out there for my team and command the game. And I didn’t do that today,” he said.
Michigan State’s next opponent, Kansas State, is making its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2018 and first under coach Jerome Tang.