Joey Hauser scored 17 points and No. 7 seed Michigan State defensively suppressed No. 10 seed Southern California in the second half Thursday to win 72-62 in the Eastern Region first round of the NCAA tournament.
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 in the 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 Trojans (22-11), who were eliminated in the first round of the tournament for the second straight year.
Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins each added 12 points for Michigan State, which held USC to 34% shooting in the second half. It seemed like every possession was a challenge for the Trojans, who only stayed within range on some late 3-pointers and some atrocious Michigan State free throws.
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The Spartans missed six straight shots from the line during one stretch while trying to close out and went 15 of 25 overall.
Joshua Morgan scored 14 and Kobe Johnson 13 to lead USC.
Entering its 25th consecutive tournament with Izzo, Michigan State will continue to push through what has been a unique and challenging season for the Spartans. The team became the face of a grieving school after a gunman killed three students and wounded five others in a campus shooting on February 13.
Playing in Big Ten country and backed by a crowd that wore even more green on St. Patrick’s Day, the Spartans took control in the second half. The steal and AJ Hoggard’s layup put Michigan State ahead 58-49.
USC had trouble getting a good look at the basket and fell into a bigger hole when Hauser and Jaden Akins buried back-to-back 3-pointers as Michigan State’s lead grew to 66-51 with 4:23 remaining.
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Johnson hit two 3-pointers to pull USC within nine, but the Trojans couldn’t get any closer.
Izzo showed his tender and caring side, especially when he helped his team and the school cope with the tragedy.
However, he did not like being described as a «teddy bear».
And while he’s not quite as fiery these days, the 68-year-old is still demanding of his players.
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«I look in the mirror a lot,» he said, «and sometimes I don’t like what I see in myself. And I let the players know. Then maybe the horror side will come out again. I had a father tell me something ago two days that I really enjoyed: ‘Train my son, to hell with external things. Train my son.’
«So, I’m training them. So, I hope to bring that with me this weekend, and hopefully our team responds.»