AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Derrick Nix got a pass down low, backed up his beefy body to put an opponent on his back and scored.
For much of Michigan State's NCAA tournament-opening win, it was as easy as giving Nix the ball and getting out of his way.
Nix had 23 points and a career-high 15 rebounds to help power the third-seeded Spartans past 14th-seeded Valparaiso 65-54 on Thursday with an inspired effort by their only senior.
"It's my last go-around," he said. "And, I'm not ready to be done yet."
The Spartans went on a 26-5 run in the first half to take control, and cruised to an easy victory much to the delight of a crowd filled with green-clad fans at the home of the NBA's Detroit Pistons.
Their hard-driving coach, though, wasn't totally satisfied because he said a "sluggish" start was followed up by a "disgusting," finish.
"I was pleased with about 33, 34 minutes of that game," Tom Izzo said.
Michigan State (26-8) will play Memphis (31-4) on Saturday when the Spartans will be shooting for a spot in the round of 16 for the fifth time in 6 years. Memphis defeated St. Mary's 54-52.
The Crusaders (26-8) were no match for Michigan State in their first NCAA tourney in nine years, just as they weren't as a first-round loser in 2000 to the eventual champion Spartans.
Valpo had enough size to match up, but didn't have enough strength.
"We were a little overpowering inside," Izzo said.
The Crusaders didn't seem worried about the 6-foot-9, 270-pound Nix when asked about him the day before the game.
Valpo's 6-8, 240-pound forward Kevin Van Wijk nonchalantly said he and his teammates faced similar players in the Horizon League. If that's true, it didn't seem to prepare Van Wijk and his fellow post players for Nix's brute force, relatively nimble feet and soft hands.
"He had some ups and downs during the season, but he really bounced back," Van Wijk said.
Nix had nine points in the first half and when he made his fourth shot to put Michigan State ahead 32-12, he had as many field goals as the Crusaders' entire team.
That basket was scored after backing down Bobby Capobianco so much that the 6-10, 245-pound forward fell on his back as if he was hit by a linebacker. Nix scored 14 in the second half, two points shy of matching his career high.
"He's definitely a load," Valpo forward Ryan Broekhoff said. "He just sealed us a little bit too low, too close to the rim. And with his size and his skill level around the hoop, it's almost impossible to guard him."