Michigan State basketball: Historic weekend at Jenison

On March 23, 1963, the Loyola (IL) Ramblers defeated the two time defending champion Cincinnati Bearcats 60-58 to win the National Championship. However, it was the culmination of both this game and a game played a week earlier that would spur college basketball into a whole new era.

It was the second round of the 1963 NCAA basketball tournament and the 3rd ranked Loyola (IL) Ramblers, coming off of a 111-42 smashing of Tennessee Tech, were scheduled to play the 6th ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs at the Jenison Field House, in East Lansing, Michigan.

However, due to a state policy, Mississippi State was not allowed to play against integrated teams. Seeing that four of Loyola’s five starters were black, this would mean that for the fourth time in five years Mississippi State would have to forfeit their invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

Nevertheless, Mississippi State coach Babe McCarthy saw to it that this game would be played. He didn’t want to forfeit again and he vowed to his team they would have the opportunity to play in the tournament that year.

Despite Mississippi governor Ross Barnett’s best efforts to place an injunction on the team, preventing them from leaving the state, McCarthy and athletic director Wade Walker drove north to Tennessee late one night while early the next morning, assistants and players snuck off to a private airport in Starkville, Mississippi, where they took off and headed for East Lansing, stopping along the way in Nashville to pick up McCarthy and Walker.

When they arrived in East Lansing, they were welcomed with open arms. Moments before the game began, captains of both teams met at center court and shook hands as flashbulbs went off all over the confines of the Jenison Field House to capture this historical event.

When the game finally tipped off, there was mutual respect on both sides of the floor as the hard fought game ended with a Loyola victory 61-51. Loyola went on to win the National Championship a week later while Mississippi State was sent home after winning a consolation game against Bowling Green.

And even though one team had to lose that game, everybody really came out winners in it. Since then, this game has been dubbed the “Game of Change” as it set the precedent for black players playing all around the country and for it’s impact of sending college basketball into a whole new era.

It is now 2012, and we’re nearing the 50th anniversary of that game being played. And on Saturday, the 19th ranked Michigan State Spartans (8-2) will commemorate the 50 years since this “Game of Change,” by playing Tuskegee at the Jenison Field House.

For the Spartans, it will be the first game played at Jenison since 1989, when they defeated Wichita State as part of that year’s NIT tournament.

Their opponent for the night, Tuskegee, is a historically all-black university located in Alabama, founded in 1881 by African-American educator Booker T. Washington. Tuskegee is a NCAA Division II college that participates in the SIAC conference and although they haven’t exactly been giant killers in the past, the game will certainly be notable for several reasons other than basketball.

Michigan State Basketball

Both MSU guard Travis Trice and MSU coach Tom Izzo are excited to be taking part in the festivities at Jenison this weekend. (Photo Credit-Mike Carter/US Presswire)

“I think it’s going to have real significance and I am proud to be associated with an institution that puts some light on this and hopefully makes us realize where it was, where it is and hopefully where it’s going,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said of playing against Tuskegee.

Some players on the Michigan State basketball team are also excited to be playing in a game with so much historical context.

“That’s big anytime this university can be part of something like that,” Michigan State sophomore guard Travis Trice said. “One of my favorite movies is Glory Road and that’s what it kinda reminded me of and that’s big and I’m just happy to be part of something like that.”

But before Michigan State plays in this historical game, the day before will feature yet another blast from the past. On Friday night, the Michigan State basketball program will host an alumni game, also at the Jenison. Some of the players that will be coming back for this game include Mateen Cleaves, Steve Smith, Morris Peterson, Travis Walton among others.

“I think it’s going to be awesome we got so many guys coming back,” Izzo said. “It should be an incredible event.”

And that it should be. Things don’t come around like this too often. With two historical events happening at the Jenison Field House this weekend, it should be very fun to watch.

Follow Ryan Squanda on twitter @squandarunner