Derrick Nix’s 23 points and career-high 15 rebounds led the third-seeded Michigan State Spartans to a 65-54 victory over the 14th-seeded Valparaiso Crusaders in the opening-round of the NCAA tournament.
Nix dominated the Crusaders on the glass by himself as his 15 rebounds were only five short of Valpo’s team total of 20.
Despite turning the ball over 17 times, the Spartans (26-8) were in total control for the majority of the game in Auburn Hills, Mich. Michigan State held the Crusaders to only 12 points through the first 17 minutes of the first half, and the inside presence that the Spartans established early caused them to get good looks from the 3-point line that really broke the game open.
MSU hit four of their six 3-pointers in the first half, and once Michigan State shook off the opening day jitters and started nailing shots from downtown the Crusaders had no chance.
The inside-outside scheme that the Spartans used to bully their way to a victory greatly benefited point guard Keith Appling and freshman guard Gary Harris. Appling, a junior, scored 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. Harris started the game looking like a freshman but later collected himself and started playing like the player that earned him the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award this season. He finished with 10 points, four rebounds and four assists.
The Crusaders (26-8) not only struggled containing Nix, Appling and Harris on the defensive end, but they struggled to make a shot in their half-court offense. Valpo shot 7-of-25 (28 percent) from beyond the arc and 19-of-54 from the field (35.2 percent). Also, former Horizon League Player of the Year Ryan Broekhoff was not able to get into any rhythm as Michigan State’s Branden Dawson did a great job guarding the Horizon League first-team all-league player. Broekhoff went 2-of-11 for eight points, seven points shy of his season average, in 37 minutes.
Michigan State will face the winner of the Memphis-St. Mary’s game on Saturday, and under head coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans are 17-3 in the second game of the NCAA tournament weekend.
NOTE: Below are interviews with MSU freshmen Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine as well as Derrick Nix and Tom Izzo (courtesy of David Harns).