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.”

Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage