East Lansing, Mich. – It wasn’t pretty, but after a 16-point thumping to Ohio State on Sunday, No. 4 Michigan State bounced back, overcoming a sluggish first-half, needing overtime to top Rutgers 76-72.
“To find a way to win tonight, I think our team deserves more credit for that,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “Tonight we played a well coached team that is physical as the day is long.”
Rutgers pushed MSU to a tightly contested 10-point victory in Piscataway a month ago, and Steve Pikiell’s team gave the Spartans all it could handle again tonight. Much like the last meeting, Rutgers battled the No. 4 team in the land right down to the final buzzer, with MSU needing overtime to outlast a resilient Rutgers bunch.
“This team [Michigan State] poses a lot of problems with the talent that they have,” Pikiell said. “You can’t just hone in on one of them, you have to play well against all of them.”
With people questioning how the Spartans, who were flat out outplayed in Columbus, would respond to a lesser opponent in Rutgers, their first half showing didn’t offer much clarity.
The Spartans opened the game on a 9-0 scoring run, but soon after struggled to find offense, with both teams trading several minute scoring droughts. MSU held a 10-point lead at one point in the half, but after the Scarlet Knights cut the deficit to seven, they took a 32-25 lead with them into the locker room.
Miles Bridges was held scoreless at the intermission, going 0-for-3 in 13 minutes of work. He did assist on two buckets and pull down four rebounds. Bridges was rather passive when the Spartans needed offense most, with the team shooting just 40% at the half.
“I’m gonna push Miles, and I told him that after the game,” Izzo said. “He’s gonna give me some and I’m gonna show him how to be more of a jerk. I’m good at that.”
Freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. paced the Spartans at the half with 11 points and grabbed five rebounds in 15 minutes of action. Jackson finished the night with 16 points and five rebounds. Following a 17-point outing in Columbus, Josh Langford, third on the team in scoring (13.9), also put up a goose-egg in the points column at the half.
The Spartans’ second half wasn’t much better, scoring just seven points through the first 10 minutes. Rutgers doubled up MSU in scoring to start the half, tying the Spartans at the mid-way point, thanks to a couple big Geo Baker and Corey Sanders buckets.
The Scarlet Knights traded shots with MSU, paced by Sanders, the junior out of Lakeland, Florida, who led all scorers with 22 points on the night.
Bridges’ first bucket of the contest game at the 7:41 mark in the second half, attacking the bucket and finishing with an acrobatic, left-handed finger roll. Bridges was more aggressive and looking to score in the second half and overtime, adding two triples and a couple free throws to his night, finishing with 11 points, six rebounds and four assists.
“I told Miles he’s gotta be more selfish with the ball,” Izzo said. “Foul trouble hurt him a bit in the first half, which is why he sat on the bench next to me.”
Down one with eight seconds to play in the game, Bridges split a pair of free throws, and after a Sanders turn-around jumper fell short at the horn, the teams took a 59-59 score into overtime.
Josh Langford came alive in the second half and overtime, scoring nine of his 12 points in the half, and added a huge go-ahead corner trifecta in the final minute of OT.
“I just wanted to help my team win when I shot that,” Langford said. “Cassius made a great pass and that’s a shot I shoot so many times so I felt like I was going to hit that shot.”
Nick Ward led the way for MSU, notching his fifth double-double on the year, scoring 17 points, going 7-11 from the charity stripe and grabbing 10 boards.
“I think Nick Ward has more and more to give still,” Izzo said. “As he shows me those things, it makes me want to push a few more buttons.”
With the win, the Spartans improve to 16-2 on the season, with their next game on Jan. 13. MSU will host their in-state rival Michigan, which sits at 14-4 on the year. Tip-off is set for noon, with television coverage on FOX.