Nearly 50 years ago Mississippi State and Loyola squared off in one of the most important college basketball games of all time.
Due to a unwritten law preventing teams in Mississippi from playing games against integrated squads, the Bulldogs had to leave the state surreptitiously to play Loyola in the 1963 NCAA tournament.
The Ramblers, who had four black starters, squared off against the Bulldogs at Jenison Field House in East Lansing, Mich. Loyola won that game, 61-51, and went on to win the 1963 NCAA championship. In 2008 Jerry Harkness, a Loyola guard on the 1963 team, said the game marked "the beginning of the end of segregation."
The historic matchup would be remembered as the "Game of Change."
After seeing a documentary about the "Game of Change" at the Final Four in 2009, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis scheduled a contest against Loyola to commemorate what will be the game's 50th anniversary in March 2013. The teams were going to play at the Jenison Field House, the Spartans' home floor until they moved into the Breslin Center in 1989. But upon hearing that Mississippi State had an opening on Saturday, Hollis released Loyola from its contract so the Ramblers and Bulldogs could play for the first time since 1963.
Playing in Loyola's Gentile Center, the Ramblers topped the Bulldogs, 59-51.
"This is a great, great feeling," Harkness, the captain of Loyola's 1963 team, told the Chicago Tribune. "And the main reason why is because (the opponent) is Mississippi State."
Meanwhile, another meaningful game was being played in East Lansing. After Michigan State released Loyola from its contract, Hollis scheduled Division II Tuskegee as the Spartans' opponent. Some of the first black aviators in the U.S. Military trained at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama more than 60 years ago.
Michigan State has played in several games with a significant military backdrop the past two years, including season-opening contests on an aircraft carrier and at a German military base, but Saturday's game against Tuskegee might have been the most meaningful.
"We've done a lot of neat things, but this kind of tops it all," guard Keith Appling said after the Spartans topped the Golden Tigers, 92-56. "I'm glad we were able to be a part of it."
The game was the first regular-season contest played at the Jenison Center since 1988.
Michigan State had a weekend of festivities, with basketball alumni returning for a game on Friday and a pre-game concert by the Commodores on Saturday. Members of the Tuskegee Airman and their families were given courtside seats for the game and honored during a halftime ceremony.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo will never forget watching the veterans get honored in front of the crowd of 6,600 at the Field House.
"It was kind of hair-raising on your arms," Izzo said.