Golden Tigers put up solid first-half effort in loss to Michigan State


The Tuskegee University men’s basketball team was in East Lansing, Mich. for what would be one of the biggest games in school history against the Michigan State Spartans inside historic Jenison Field House last Saturday. The trip to Michigan followed the first victory of the season for head coach Leon Douglas’ team, when they were able to avenge an earlier loss in the season against Montevallo with a 68-65 victory inside Daniel ‘Chappie’ James Center Dec. 4. Even though TU dropped to 1-5 after the contest against MSU with a 92-56 loss, the Golden Tigers looked very impressive against a top-ranked Division I team in the Spartans during the first 20 minutes of the game, and managed to cut the MSU lead to one or two possessions several times during the first half.

Michigan State chose Tuskegee to participate in the ‘Game of Change,’ which commemorated the 50th Anniversary of a game played between Loyola and Mississippi State University on March 15, 1963 inside Jenison Field House. The game between Loyola and MSU has been lost as a footnote in civil rights history as years have passed by. But, that game stands as a historic moment in race relations for college basketball. According to ESPNU’s telecast of the MSU-TU game, when Michigan State was originally planning to put together this game to honor the Game of Change, the Spartans wanted to play Loyola inside Jenison Field House. But, Loyola had a great opportunity to host Mississippi State in Chicago on the same night in which MSU was planning its’ game last Saturday. In that game (also played on Saturday), Loyola improved to 7-3 with a 59-51 victory over Mississippi State, which dropped their overall record to 3-6 overall.

The original Game of Change was played inside Jenison Field House when Mississippi State won its’ fourth SEC Championship in men’s basketball under then-coach Babe McCarthy. However, the Bulldogs did not participate in the NCAA Tournament in the first three years that they had won the SEC during that time (1959, 1961 and 1962) because of an unwritten but strictly followed rule of segregation in the State of Mississippi that did not allow teams in the state to play against integrated schools in athletic competition. Fed up with seeing the University of Kentucky take its’ spot in the NCAA Tournament during every season it won the SEC, McCarthy teamed up with Mississippi State University President Dean Colvard to find a way to let the team play in 1963.

Then-Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett was very outspoken in his desire to see the law’s enforcement continue. Assisting the governor at the time was state senator Billy Mitts, who had convinced a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the Bulldogs from leaving the state. But, McCarthy and Colvard were a couple of steps ahead of the segregationists. According to, Colvard had traveled to Alabama to work a speaking arrangement, while he ordered McCarthy to travel to Memphis to prevent the order from being served to either one of them. The following day, an assistant coach had gathered the players to meet on a private plane while nobody was around before flying into Memphis to meet with McCarthy and Mississippi State’s athletic director at the time (Wade Walker). The reunited party then flew into East Lansing. Loyola would go on to defeat the Bulldogs in the game 61-51, laying the foundation in which that team would go on to upset Cincinnati in Louisville, Ky. for the 1963 NCAA Championship.

Tuskegee was chosen as a natural replacement for Loyola for Saturday’s game because of the impact that the Tuskegee Airmen have had on the State of Michigan throughout the years. The Tuskegee Airmen National Museum is based in Detroit, and dozens of Tuskegee Airmen are either natives of Michigan or currently live there. Several of these special individuals were at the game, and were honored during the first timeout of the game. Later on, in the second half, Sparty (the Michigan State mascot) walked by the front row where the Tuskegee Airmen were sitting, and shook each of their hands in a touching moment of respect.

According to the Associated Press, one of the Airmen honored was 91-year old Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson. Jefferson said that he was very impressed with Michigan State’s hospitality.

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

Coach Douglas (like many coaches across the country) said that he was not familiar with the history of the game, but that he was proud to participate in the experience and had already began using it to further educate his players on what had happened nearly a half-century ago.

“The thing about kids growing up today, is that they are not often taught about the things that happened in the 1950’s and 1960’s anymore,” Douglas said in the postgame press conference. “But, I am very glad that we played here tonight, and I hope that we are able to grow as a team both on and off the court from this experience.”

The game was the first basketball contest that was played away from the Breslin Center since 1989, making the occasion the first game played inside Jenison Field House (currently used for Michigan State track and field, along with MSU gymnastics) in over 20 years. Michigan State also had some alumni from its’ 2000 NCAA Championship team arrive at Jenison Field House, as Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell were all in attendance. One notable absence was when, perhaps the most popular player to put on an MSU uniform during Jenison Field House’s time as a basketball arena, Ervin ‘Magic’ Johnson, was unable to show because of a last minute invitation by President Barack Obama to attend a special event at the White House in Washington.

During the game’s first 20 minutes, the Golden Tigers were able to stifle the Spartans’ offensive attack, as MSU had 12 turnovers and shot just 41.9 percent from the floor (13-for-31). Meanwhile, Tuskegee couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities, as TU shot just 11-for-37 from the field, which was near what the Golden Tigers shot for the game, at 29.2 percent (21-of-72 for the contest).

Michigan State’s Keith Appling led all scorers, as the junior guard had 25 points from 7-of-9 shooting on the floor. Derrick Nix was the leading rebounder, as he had 13 boards to go with his double-double total of 11 points. Adreian Payne also had a double-double for the home team, as he finished with 12 points to go with ten rebounds.

For Tuskegee, Calvin Thomas and Javier McKinney kept their double-digit scoring streaks alive on the season, as the duo finished with 14 points and 12 points, respectively. However, the duo combined to shoot 11-for-39 from the field, and they struggled against MSU’s defense as the game pulled away from the Golden Tigers later on in the second half. Shaquille Cook, TU’s leading rebounder, continued to contribute with securing the basketball, as he finished with a team-high seven boards to go with five points.

Tuskegee’s struggles continued on Monday, with a much more competitive 88-82 loss to Florida Southern University in Lakeland, FL. Thomas led all scorers with 25 points, and McKinney contributed 17. Cook was one rebound away from a double-double, as he had 12 points and nine rebounds. The Michigan State game provided a real spark for TU in the first half, as the Golden Tigers shot a blistering 57 percent from the field in the first half before cooling down in the second half to finish the game at exactly 50 percent shooting (31-for-62). Florida Southern (7-1) had four players score in double figures, led by Seth Evans’ 21 points.

Tuskegee will play five more games on the road through the early part of January before beginning the home conference schedule Jan. 10 against Fort Valley State.

Tuskegee Coach Leon Douglas looks on the sidelines as he
tries to solve the Michigan State defense.

Sparty, the Michigan State mascot, shows his appreciation
for the Tuskegee Airmen. 

Javier McKinney tries to stay in front of Michigan State's
top scorer, Keith Appling. 

Calvin Thomas throws down on this dunk attempt, with
Branden Dawson trailing closely behind.

Richard Dixson looks to pass inside, with MSU's Gary
Harris defending. 

© 2012 Tuskegee University

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