Mississippi State and Michigan State squared off Thursday in an opening round matchup of the NCAA Tournament. A battle of the 9-seeded Spartans and the 8-seeded Bulldogs, the matchup was expected to be a tight one to the very end.

ESPN Bet had Tom Izzo’s group as a 1.5-point favorite entering the game, but that type of affair did not develop. Michigan State carried a 7-point lead into halftime and came out of the break on fire to build a double-digit lead.

Ultimately, the only hopes Mississippi State had was to make this a low-scoring defensive struggle, but the Spartans were able to find their range from 3-point range while clamping down on the Bulldogs. Michigan State eventually cruised to the finish line with a 69-51 victory to keep dancing in March Madness.

Here are the key takeaways from the first game of the West Region:

Jaden Akins the X-factor

Coming into Thursday’s game, Akins had put together a strong junior season, though he did take a step back in his 3-point shooting this season. A career 39% shooter from deep, Akins averaged 10.2 points this season but shot just 36% from deep after shooting 42% last season.

He turned that around with a pair of early triples against Mississippi State and finishing 3-for-8 from deep. He was second on the Spartans with 15 points and added 7 rebounds.

Akins also shined with his athleticism, elevating for a huge block against Josh Hubbard on a breakaway:

After that, he delivered an emphatic dunk for Michigan State to punctuate a run in the second half. With the Spartans looking for a spark in the tournament, Akins stepped up in a big way.

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Foul trouble plagues Bulldogs

In order to win this one, Mississippi State needed Cameron Matthews and Tolu Smith to make their presence felt. That did not happen early on, and a lot of that had to do with foul trouble.

Both Matthews and Smith were limited by 2 fouls in the first half. The two did combine for 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the floor, but those early fouls limited the amount of time they could be on the floor together.

Without Matthews and Smith impacting the game early on, Josh Hubbard was able to keep things close for a while with 15 points, but it was not enough against the veteran Spartans.

Game decided at the 3-point line

Sometimes, games hinge on one simple stat, and this game hinged on 3-point shooting. Without Hubbard able to catch fire from deep, the Bulldogs were shot out of the tournament by the Spartans.

Led by Tyson Walker’s 19 points and 3-for-6 shooting from range, Michigan State finished 10-for-23 (43.5%) from 3-point range. 6 Spartans made at least 1 3-pointer in the win while shooting 50% overall from the floor.

By comparison, Mississippi State shot just 6-for-27 (22.2%) from deep. Hubbard was 3-for-11, but the rest of the Bulldogs combined to go 3-for-16.