COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Joey Hauser scored 17 points and No. 7 seed Michigan State clamped down defensively on No. 10 seed Southern California in the second half on Thursday for a 72-62 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament's East Region.
Coach Tom 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 ramped up its defensive intensity 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 some atrocious 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.
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.
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. A.J. Hoggard’s steal and layup put Michigan State ahead 58-49.
USC struggled to get any good looks at the basket and 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 couldn’t get any closer.
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.”