MSU’s Tyson Walker defensively leads to win over USC

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tyson Walker didn’t lead Michigan State in scoring in its 72-62 win over USC in an NCAA Tournament East Region first-round game Friday at Nationwide Arena.

He didn’t lead the Spartans in rebounds or assists, either.

What the 6-foot-1 guard from Westbury, Long Island, did, though, was much more important: He silenced USC’s top scorer, Boogie Ellis, holding the Trojans guard to just six points, 12 fewer than his season average.

Ellis was held to 3-for-12 shooting, 0-for-3 from 3-point range.

That was the difference in the game.

Walker was the key for the seventh-seeded Spartans (20-12), who advanced to a second-round matchup against No. 2 seed Marquette on Sunday.

Tyson Walker of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates against the USC Trojans during the second half in the first-round game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Nationwide Arena.
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When Walker transferred from Northeastern to Michigan State before last season, he envisioned being a difference-maker on college basketball’s highest level and preparing himself for a professional career.

“This is why I came here — to be in the position to play in games like this and win,’’ Walker told The Post after the game. “It’s definitely lived up to everything I expected. Coach [Tom Izzo] is great, the team is great.’’

Walker, who scored 12 points, dished out four assists and had three rebounds against USC, is the only player on the Spartans’ roster from New York and said he brings “just a different type of attitude’’ to the team.

He speaks in hushed, almost shy tones and doesn’t come across off the court as the alpha-dog player he is on the court.

“I’m not as low-key as you would think,’’ Walker said. “If you ask [my teammates], they’d tell you I probably talk the most.’’

Walker got a talking-to from Izzo in the first half when, just 2:36 into the game, he did the one thing the veteran coach felt would be a sin in this game: he committed a careless reach-in foul.

“I bet you I haven’t said three bad words to Tyson all year,’’ Izzo said. “He never does anything wrong. He’s a good student, he goes to class, he does his work, he comes in and works out, he plays offense, he plays defense. He’s everybody’s All-American.”

“Yet, one of the things we said [before the game] was you cannot get a foul for reaching, I don’t care if they score a bucket or not. And he did. He was madder at himself than I was. I said, ‘Hey, you ain’t gonna be reaching or you’re gonna be sitting here.’’’

Tyson Walker and head coach Tom Izzo against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second half at the Purcell Pavilion.
Tyson Walker and head coach Tom Izzo against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second half at the Purcell Pavilion.
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Walker didn’t commit another foul for the rest of the game.

“He’s just a workhorse,’’ Michigan State forward Joey Hauser told The Post. “He’s not a big guy, but he packs a punch. He does everything for us. He’s aggressive on defense. Offensively, he’s our best player, creating shots and getting to the rim.”

“And you saw what he did defensively,’’ Hauser went on. “We kind of followed his lead today. He had a couple tipped balls, steals and took their best player out of the game. That’s what he does.’’

Michigan State guard Jaden Akins told The Post that Walker “means everything to this team.’’

“Ellis was on the top of our scouting report,’’ Akins said. “He was the engine that makes their team go. We knew if we made his job tough, we’d have a good chance to win, and Tyson did a good job of that.”

“Tyson is the definition of what a Spartan is: he’s tough, makes big plays, is a clutch player and is a winner. I knew he was talented from the second he stepped on campus.’’

Izzo said he is thankful every day for Walker’s decision to enter the transfer portal in 2021 and leave Northeastern, where he led the team in scoring with 18.8 points per game his sophomore year.

Two years later, Walker is leading Michigan State in scoring with 14.6 points per game.

Walker knows his decision to transfer will help him at the pro level, wherever he lands, from “just knowing the pressure that comes with this; the demand is high on playing well, so you’ve got to perform.”

Boogie Ellis drives on Tyson Walker in the second half of a first-round college basketball game in the men's NCAA Tournament in Columbus, Ohio.
Tyson Walker (2) helped limit USC’s leading scorer Boogie Ellis (5) to just six points in Michigan State’s 72-62 first-round victory.

“I’ve grown a lot since I came here,’’ he went on. “My game is better and so is the way I go about business. I always think I can do things that a lot of people don’t even know I can do.”

On Friday, he did everything.

Marquette 78, Vermont 61

In Columbus, Ohio, Kam Jones scored 18 of his 19 points in the second half as second-seeded Marquette beat No. 15 seed Vermont in the first round of the NCAA Tournament East Region.

Oso Ighodaro scored 14 points and David Joplin added 12 as Marquette (29-6) pulled away in the last 10 minutes and cruised to the rout, advancing to face seventh-seeded Michigan State on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16.

During Jones’ second-half surge, he scored 17 straight, including a trio of 3-point shots.

By the time he was finished, the Golden Eagles had increased their lead from five points to 17 with just under 10 minutes left.

-With AP