Spartans coach reflects on 86-73 win over Golden Grizzlies at Little Caesars Arena. Matt Charboneau
Detroit — With 12 minutes to play on Saturday afternoon, Michigan State was in a battle with Oakland at Little Caesars Arena, the mid-major school leading the No. 2 team in the nation by a point.
The Spartans and Golden Grizzlies have had these games before, most notably two seasons ago at The Palace when Oakland pushed top-ranked Michigan State to the limit before the Spartans prevailed in overtime.
This time, however, the Grizzlies were riding a wave emotions and 3-pointers to hold a one-point lead in the second half over a team it hadn’t beaten in the 15 previous meetings.
One play, however, seemed to flip everything as Miles Bridges caught a pass from Cassius Winston on a breakaway and was fouled by Oakland’s Chris Palombizio on his way to the basket. Bridges jumped at Palombizio, angry at the foul, one he called “dirty” after the game. His teammates were quickly by his side, jawing with the Grizzlies as referees pulled the players apart.
“We knew it was gonna be chippy from the jump,” Bridges said. “It got our team going.”
It was exactly what Michigan State needed as it took over in the final 12 minutes — Winston, in particular — to pull away for an 86-73 victory in front of 20,645, the largest crowd ever at Little Caesars Arena.
“We took some punches,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “They hit some shots in a row and the place started getting into it and that’s why I thank our fans. We had more of them and when they rose up and when we hit a couple of those threes it changed.
“But we have to learn. It’s gonna get chippy at Purdue. It’s gonna get chippy at Michigan. It’s gonna get chippy at Minnesota. Last year we were playing to play, this year we’re playing for something. And when you play for something it gets a little bit chippy and I like the way we responded.”
The biggest response came from Winston, the Detroit native who hadn’t scored a point before the foul on Bridges. After Bridges made two free throws, Winston scored on a runner in the lane then nailed his first triple to put the Spartans up five.
But it was in the final four minutes that Winston truly took over, scoring the final 14 points of the game to finish with 19.
“Miles definitely was about to do something crazy (on the breakaway) and we had his back,” Winston said. “We started chipping at each other a little bit. But it kind of woke us up and brought that intensity up.”
Joshua Langford added 17 points for Michigan State (10-1) while Nick Ward added 15 points and 15 rebounds, Bridges scored 11 and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 10.
It was Michigan State’s 16th straight victory over Oakland, which has never beaten the Spartans.
“We got beat by the best team in the country with the best coach in the country today,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “There’s no question about that.”
Illinois transfer Kendrick Nunn scored 32 on a bad ankle while Jalen Hayes scored 14 and Martez Walker had 13 for Oakland (6-5).
The Golden Grizzlies proved for most of the game they could play with arguably the best team in the country. After Michigan State opened a 31-19 lead in the first half, the Grizzlies caused the Spartans problems by switching to a zone defense, one that ultimately led to 17 MSU turnovers.
The Grizzlies took advantage as Nunn sparked a 14-5 run over the next five minutes to trim the deficit to 36-33 with less than a minute to play. Ward’s tip-in with 25.3 seconds left capped off the scoring as the Spartans led, 38-33, at the break.
The second half is when things got interesting.
Oakland took its first lead of the second half when Walker hit a 3-pointer and was fouled, completing a four-point play to put the Grizzlies up, 45-44, with 16:55 to play. From there, the battle was on between the Grizzlies and Spartans.
Oakland went ahead, 55-52, on another Nunn 3-pointer but after a Langford runner, Bridges was fouled and things shifted.
“We were just trying to always rally around a guy,” said Michigan State’s Kenny Goins, who had eight rebounds and seven assists. “We could see he was upset. We were all upset the way that was handled so it was just kind of getting his back and he led the charge with the intensity and energy with that.”
The Grizzlies pulled even again at 66-66 after a 3-pointer from Hayes, just his second of the season, with eight minutes to play. After a Jackson 3-pointer put MSU up three, Walker scored on a layup off a turnover followed by a Bridges' 3-pointer that put the Spartans ahead, 72-68 with just more than four minutes to play.
That’s when Winston took control, scoring the final 14 points of the game for the Spartans. All 19 of his points came in the second half.
“Just keep that confidence that any shot I shoot I believe its gonna go in,” Winston said. “When I play like that all the time it helps a lot. I got some open looks and didn’t let the beginning of the game faze me and kept playing. They called my number a couple of times, got me some open looks and I knocked them down.”