MSU advances to Second Round with 72-62 win over USC


Sarah Smith

Carson Cooper celebrates after a dunk during Michigan State’s 72-62 victory over USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 17, 2023. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

A.J. Evans, Sports Editorial Assistant

COLUMBUS, OH – With 4:21 left in the second half, Nationwide Arena erupted. 

 A three from Jaden Akins put the Spartans up by 15, in front of a crowd predominantly filled with MSU fans. It was the second three in a row for Michigan State and just the fifth of the game. 

The shot was an exclamation mark on a fantastic performance from Akins, who recorded 12 points and 6 rebounds in MSU’s well-balanced attack. 

In their opening game of the NCAA Tournament, MSU defeated USC 72-62 to advance to the second round. 

After leading by 11 in the first half, MSU saw its lead dwindle to one after a late run from USC. The Trojans made their last four shots to shut the door on MSU’s lead and head into halftime with the score knotted at 34. Redshirt junior forward Joshua Morgan exploded for 10 first half points, converting on all five of his attempts from the floor.

In the second half, MSU continued its ascension on offense. The Spartans excelled at spreading the floor, pushing the pace and connecting on 50% of their field goals and 36% of three-point attempts. 

Although USC stayed within striking distance, the Trojans never found their rhythm offensively and shot only 31% from the field in the second half. 

MSU’s trio of junior AJ Hoggard, senior Tyson Walker and Akins did an excellent job of defending USC’s leading scorer Boogie Ellis, who recorded just six points and went 3-12 from the field. Ellis entered Friday’s contest averaging 18.0 points and leading the Pac-12 in made 3-point field goals with 83. He had zero against MSU. 

AJ Hoggard dribbles the ball during Michigan State’s 72-62 victory over USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 17, 2023. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM (Sarah Smith )

“Coming in, we knew he was the engine that made this team go, and we felt like if we limited his play we’d have a chance to win, and that’s what we did,” said sophomore guard Jaden Akins. 

“They did a great job,” said Ellis. “I let my teammates down today. I didn’t make shots, and they made things tough for me.” 

Ellis’ backcourt mate, Drew Peterson, also had a rough game. The fifth-year senior recorded 11 points on 4-10 shooting from the field. 

Against a USC team that had the best field goal percent defense in the Pac-12, and one of the best interior defenses in the country, MSU recorded 32 points in the paint. 

“They did get some paint scoring opportunities, which is a little unusual for our defense because we’re so good against the two,” said USC head coach Andy Enfield. “Give them credit, they were able to get to the rim and finish.” 

USC struggled to find an answer for MSU’s screen actions, especially out of the pick and roll, where Hoggard and Walker consistently got into the paint and made plays. 

“I thought we spread them out a little bit with our ball-screen stuff, and we changed up a few things at halftime to slip those things,” said Izzo. 

After Hoggard picked up a third foul early in the second half, Walker took over the point guard duties and continued dissecting USC’s ball screen defense, making plays for himself and others. 

“Tyson’s a special player, because he can score it, defend it and he’s getting better at distributing it,” said Izzo. “Not a lot of guys can do all three.” 

Walker finished with 12 points, four assists and three rebounds in 31 minutes.

Jaden Akins dunks the ball during Michigan State’s 72-62 victory over USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 17, 2023. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM (Sarah Smith)

Joey Hauser led MSU in scoring with 17 points, going 4-9 from the field and 5-6 from the free throw line. 

Friday’s victory was an encouraging start to the tournament for an MSU team that saw four players score in double figures. The Spartans also shut down an opposing team with one of the most dynamic backcourts in the country. 

For another year, Michigan State makes it out of the first round. 

“I’m happy we’re moving on, and I’m happy we’re moving in the right way,” said Izzo. 

Michigan State will take on Marquette on Sunday. The time is TBD and the game will tip-off from Nationwide Arena again in Columbus.