AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Senior center Derrick Nix powered for 23 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State scored 14 unanswered points in the first half as the third-seeded Spartans cruised to a 65-54 NCAA Tournament victory over Valparaiso in their Midwest Region opener at The Palace on Thursday.
Keith Appling had 15 points and six rebounds for third-seeded Michigan State (26-8), which plays the survivor of Thursday's Memphis-St. Mary's game in the third round on Saturday. Freshman Gary Harris chipped in 10 points, four rebounds and four assists for the Spartans, who led by as much as 27.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo took Nix out of the game in early going after a slow start but Nix asserted himself after he reentered.
"He missed two layups and he wasn't guarding the way we wanted him to," Izzo said. "Once we put him back in, he turned the corner. Nix needed patience because they doubled him. They really came at him and I thought he did a pretty good job."
Making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004, Valparaiso (26-8) couldn't recreate the magic of their 1998 run when current coach Bryce Drew hit an iconic buzzer beater to defeat Ole Miss. The Horizon League champion Crusaders, who were led by Ben Boggs' 15 points and Erik Buggs' 14, shot just 35.2 percent from the field.
Valparaiso was held to 23.1 percent shooting in the first half as Michigan State grabbed a 35-18 halftime lead. The Crusaders were stuck on 12 points for 6:15 as the Spartans took command. Nix scored seven of the Spartans' points during that span, which gave them a 32-12 lead. Matt Kenney finally ended Valparaiso's dry spell with a 3-pointer.
"They just got a little bit more physical and they were a little bit quicker to the ball," Buggs said. "We turned the ball over a little bit when they started making shots."
Nix also scored the first two baskets of the second half and added a layup and putback to make it 45-20. A Harris bucket stretched the lead to 27, 49-22, and the Crusaders never made a serious run.
NOTES: Valparaiso's halftime total was a season low. Its previous low was 22 points against Nebraska. ... The Spartans have played in the NCAA Tournament 16 consecutive seasons, the third-longest streak behind Kansas (24) and Duke (18). They have a 17-6 record all-time in the Round of 64, including a 12-4 mark under coach Tom Izzo. ... The teams had previously met only five times, including the Spartans‘ 65-38 victory during the 2000 NCAA Tournament when they won the national championship. ... Valparaiso has a 2-8 record in the tournament, with its only victories coming in its 1998 Sweet Sixteen run. It has lost its last five tournament openers.