No. 19 Michigan St. 92, Tuskegee 56

Michigan State gave its players another opportunity to
relish.

Keith Appling matched a career high with 25 points to lead the
19th-ranked Spartans to a 92-56 win over Tuskegee on Saturday night
at Jenison Field House, where the ”Game of Change” was held
during the 1963 NCAA tournament.

Michigan State opened the season on an Air Force base in
Germany, a year after playing on an aircraft carrier in San
Diego.

The Spartans (9-2) played their first game in their former home
for hoops since 1989 – a decade after Magic Johnson called it his
home court during a championship season – to celebrate an historic
event staged in the same venue nearly a half-century ago.

”We’ve done a lot of neat things, but this kind of tops it
all,” Appling said. ”I’m glad we were able to be a part of
it.”

Mississippi State, whose team had only white players at the
time, defied a state prohibition against playing integrated teams
to face Loyola of Chicago, which had four black starters, in East
Lansing during the 1963 NCAA tournament. Loyola won the game en
route to winning the NCAA title that year.

Those teams played for the first time since that NCAA tournament
matchup on Saturday night in Chicago, where Loyola won 59-51, and
players from the game that helped to change race relations on the
court were honored at halftime.

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said he had a
verbal agreement from Loyola to play Saturday night at Jenison, but
let the school out of the commitment when it had a chance to
reunite with Mississippi State on the court.

Hollis then lined up Tuskegee for the game and gave Tuskegee
Airmen and their families courtside seats. Some of the first black
aviators in the U.S. military, who trained in Alabama at Tuskegee
Institute, were given a standing ovation during the first
timeout.

”It was kind of hair-raising on your arms,” Michigan State
coach Tom Izzo said.

Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, a 91-year-old Tuskegee Airmen, was
thrilled to be among those honored by Michigan State officials,
coaches, players and fans.

”They treated us exuberantly well,” Jefferson said after the
game.

Hollis said the idea for the event was hatched when he saw the
documentary ”Game of Change” during the 2009 Final Four in
Detroit. Hollis figured this season would be a good time to do it,
nearly 50 years before the game was played at Michigan State.

Tuskegee coach Leon Douglas, a former NBA player, said both he
and his players were unaware of the significance of the 1963 game
until the school was invited to celebrate it and he educated
himself and his players.

”It was really a milestone,” Douglas said.

Calvin Thomas scored 14 points and Javier McKinney had 12 for
the Golden Tigers (1-5).

Michigan State uses Jenison for volleyball, wrestling,
gymnastics and indoor track. It was converted back into a
basketball venue, with the court and baskets brought over from the
nearby Breslin Center, for an alumni game Friday night, Saturday’s
game that followed a concert by The Commodores and a Michigan State
women’s basketball game Sunday.

Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell, stars from the
2000 national championship team, and Steve Smith were among the
former Spartans who played in a game Friday night that was expected
to include Johnson as one of the coaches. Johnson didn’t make it
because he accepted an invitation to visit with President Barack
Obama. Johnson apologized to his ”MSU family and friends” for not
attending the alumni basketball game on his Twitter account.

”We will open Jenison for another basketball game if Magic
wants to play in a reunion game,” Hollis said.

Perhaps because the game was a side show of sorts, the Spartans
got off to a slow start against Tuskegee. Michigan State led by two
late in first half because the Spartans had 12 turnovers and made
just 10 of 23 shots.

”I was worried about how we would perform and my worries came
through in the first half,” Izzo said. ”Thank goodness we bounced
back.”

The Spartans, who led 33-26 at halftime, pulled away with a 17-4
run early in the second half to take a 53-35 lead.

Michigan State’s Adreian Payne had 12 points and 10 rebounds,
Derrick Nix had 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Gary Harris added 10
points.

The Golden Tigers, a Division II program, were eventually
overmatched after playing teams such as the University of
Montevallo and Saint Leo.

”Division I teams play fast and physical,” Tuskegee’s Jacob
Pettway said. ”When we were on, we could stick with them.”

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