EAST LANSING — This is not who the Spartans are. Not yet. Not even after a thrilling comeback win over a top-5 team at the Breslin Center Saturday afternoon.
Yeah, beating Purdue says a lot about what these young Spartans can do, especially on a day when the seasoned and senior-laden Boilermakers turned the ball over only three times and held the lead until just over eight minutes were left in the game.
But it says a lot more about what’s possible, that Michigan State can still be a championship team.
“I do think we have a higher ceiling than a lot of teams,” said Tom Izzo, whose Spartans won, 68-65, in what felt like a deep-tournament type game.
He says that because he sees the progress a handful of his players are making lately. None more than Miles Bridges.
The sophomore forward came back to MSU for games like this. Came back to show he could take over games like this.
It hasn’t been easy. Partly because he had to get better with the ball, partly because the team is better around him and he hasn’t needed to take over often, and partly because of expectations.
Few college players are dissected the way Bridges has been. Just last week, ESPN commentator Dan Dakich tweeted out that Bridges had no game.
What he was trying to say — rather clumsily — was that Bridges hadn’t shown that alpha trait in the most tense moments of a game. Of course he has game. His athleticism and rebounding and shooting alone are good enough to make him a first-round draft pick in the NBA this summer.
Yet what Bridges has shown the last couple of games looks different. And not just the game-winning, step-back 3-pointer he hit with two seconds left Saturday afternoon.
It was a big shot. And he defied his coach, who had wanted him to try to get to the rim and draw a foul. But MSU would not have been able to win the game if not for everything Bridges had done before that shot.
Saturday was the first time in his short career that he never looked rushed. He’s managed to combine confidence, arrogance and equanimity in his play now, and the results are a more fluid and polished presence.
It’s not just that he’s hitting shots at a high clip, it’s that he’s sensing when his team needs a shot and makes one.
“Twice in huddle today he said ‘get me the ball,’ ” said Izzo, even though “it’s not his style.”
The inner workings of Bridges psyche have been over-analyzed the last season and a half. I’m as guilty of it as anyone.
There are times when you watch him play and his respectful and sunny disposition doesn’t always align with his obvious talent. His own coach has pleaded with him to be more of a “jerk” on the court.
Well, we learned more about his evolution against Purdue. In the way that he demanded the ball in the huddle. In the way he told Izzo during halftime that the Boilermakers’ deadeye shooter, Dakota Mathias, wasn’t going to get another shot.
“He had to guard today,” said Izzo. “That’s the step he took.”
Steps he keeps taking despite all the questions about whether he could.
“For a guy that has heard so much about whether he’s good enough,” said Izzo, “… he’s improved a lot.”
And yet he isn’t the only one getting better on this team. Cassius WInston played his best half of basketball in the second half Saturday. Gavin Schilling, who lost last season to a knee injury, played 20 critical minutes, mostly battling Purdue’s interior behemoth, Isaac Haas.
Izzo’s strategy not to double Haas – he scored 25 points – helped keep the Boilermakers’ Big Ten-leading 3-point attack in check. Purdue didn’t make a single three in the second half.
Because Schilling was able to slow Haas just enough to avoid the double teams. Because Matt McQuaid and Winston and Bridges — the perimeter trio that played most of the last 10 minutes — locked down the outside.
Nearly all of them showed the sort of intensity and grit they hadn’t shown consistently in earlier games this year. Even Izzo didn’t love the way they played in the first half.
But he loved what his team is starting to become. And he loves that his most talented player is starting to discover himself as the regular season winds down.
“We’ve had some guys take some steps,” he said.
Bridges, who spoke after the game as if he hadn’t hit the biggest shot of his life, doesn’t need to change any where but on the court. And probably couldn’t even if he watned to.
He is, in his core, a college student who’s still thrilled to be in college. At Michigan State.
“It’s a blessing,” he said.
Though he understands what beating Purdue meant.
“Another step to the goals that we have,” he said.
It has not been easy thinking about goals the last few weeks as the team – through no fault of its own — became part of a larger national story.
But that attention, said Winston, has helped bring them closer, and in that effort they are beginning to understand what they might be able to accomplish.
Saturday wasn’t perfect. Yet it was a step. A very important one.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.
This news collected from :Source link