DETROIT- Bucknell did all they could to keep pace with Michigan State. They banked in three-pointers from the logo, and shot over 70 percent from behind the arc in the first half. Then Michigan State and Miles Bridges flexed their muscles to run the Bison out of Little Caesers Arena to the tune of a 82-to-78 win.
Bridges was the aggressor in the second half for the Spartans scoring 16 of his team’s 36 second-half points. 10 of them came in concession where Bridges did not need any help to send Bucknell home. His 10-0 run put Michigan State up 68-43 with 8:36 remaining and the Spartans led by double-digits until the final minute.
Bridges finished with a game-high 29 points on 12-of-22 shooting from the field while also adding nine rebounds and four assists to his eye-opening stat line.
“I keep telling him (Birdges) he has to be more selfish,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. “We went to him and the players wanted to keep going to him and he wanted the ball too.”
In a half with not much defense and minimal missed shots, the Spartans led 44-to-40 heading into the break. It was a two-man show through the first 20 minutes with Bucknell’s Zach Thomas and Michigan State’s Josh Langford putting on offensive explosions.
“Considering the layoff I thought we were pretty sharp for 30-minutes of the game,” said Izzo. “We took a step forward there is no question about that.”
Throughout the week Izzo compared Bucknell to Middle Tennessee State, the team that upset Michigan State in the 2015 tournament. In the first half, Thomas brought validation to those comparisons.
Thomas did everything in his power to keep Bucknell within single digits. He went into the break with 20 points, exactly half of the Bison’s first half total, on 6-of-11 shooting from the field and 3-of-3 shooting from behind the arc. Every time Michigan State was ready to pull away, Thomas led a counter-punch.
After a 7-0 run grew Michigan State’s lead to 11 at 23-12, Thomas and Bucknell followed with a 16-to-4 run. 11 of the 16 came from Thomas’s hot hand as he gave the Bison their first lead of the game with 5:24 remaining before the break at 28-27.
“I thought we did some very very good thing when we had the 11-point lead,” said Izzo. “But I thought we didn’t take over.”
Unfortunately for Thomas and the Bison, his hot-hand could not be sustained for 40 minutes and he did not have much help. Thomas only logged seven points in the second half before fouling out with six minutes remaining. Stephen Brown finished with 20 points as well for Bucknell however nine of which came in garbage time.
Langford was Michigan State’s version of Thomas. He needed it to happen and so did the Spartans. After struggling mightily down the final stretch of the season, Langford and his mid-range jumper was re-awakened in Detroit. His 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting led Michigan State at the break, and more importantly most of his baskets came at key times.
“It felt good hitting that first shot,” said Langford.
In the midst of Bucknell’s major first-half run, Langford did his part to keep Michigan State ahead. one of his six jump-shots that he converted put the Spartans up 27-24 after the Bison had cut their deficit to one. Two minutes later he hit another, this time to re-gain the lead for his team at 29-28.
Langford’s night concluded with a 22-point effort on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. Cassius Winston was Michigan State’s third player that finished in double figures, adding 11 points of his own.
“He (Langford) was due for this type of game,” said Winston. “We knew it was coming. He picked a perfect time to get it going.”
Nick Ward Injury:
Midway through the second half, Michigan State’s Nick Ward took a nasty tumble while stretching from a pass by Winston. Ward tumbled over a Bucknell player at landed awkwardly on his neck. For some moments he layed motionless on the court before coming to his feet and appeared to be okay.
” I was not worried about him being hurt,” said Izzo. “Nick is probably one of the toughest guys on our team.”
Michigan State’s Nick Ward took a pretty hard tumble pic.twitter.com/4emzvnjMCa
— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) March 17, 2018
He did return to the game with 13 minutes remaining.
With the win Michigan State advances into the Midwest Region’s second round where they will face the winner of TCU/Syracuse on Sunday March 18. Times and television networks have not yet been announced.