MSU's Harris, McQuaid take off with return of Bridges
East Lansing — With Miles Bridges back in the lineup, there was a concern for Michigan State on how it would integrate its star player back into the flow of the game.
After Wednesday’s 93-65 victory over Rutgers at Breslin Center, it appears the Spartans have little to worry about. In fact, if it means guards Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid play the way they did against the Scarlet Knights the rest of the season, then the Spartans might just be hitting their stride.
While Bridges eased his way back in with six points and six rebounds in 17 minutes, Harris and McQuaid had their best games in a couple of weeks. Harris scored 24 points on 7-for-12 shooting while McQuaid hit a pair of 3-pointers and finished with 12 points.
“It sounds stupid, but (they’re like) Batman and Robin,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Miles is a Batman type of guy. He doesn’t care. He was happy with whatever he scored, happy with what he did but he’s not scared of anything, he’s not nervous. He just played. Now everybody else can get back to the norm and I thought that helped a little bit.
“We got Eron going a little bit, got him some more shots. McQuaid felt more comfortable. But they did spend a lot of time in the gym and we threw caution to the wind. We’ve had such a poor year of worrying about injuries, we said we’re going to get back to who we are.”
That led to all the work for Harris and McQuaid, and with Bridges back, the weight seemed to be lifted off their shoulders.
“It’s great to have an athlete like him on the court with you,” Harris said. “A guy that knows the game like him, who can finish like that and get other people involved and also be so athletic on both ends. That is a great asset to our team.”
Harris took advantage, scoring 24 points, the most he’s had in a Big Ten game after scoring nine total in the previous two games.
McQuaid hadn’t scored in double-figures or made more than one 3-pointer in a game since Dec. 6 against Youngstown State, when he made three 3-pointers and scored 11 points. Over the next four games he was just 1-for-14 from 3-point range.
His play on Wednesday, he believes, can get him rolling, along with the extra time he’s been putting in at the gym.
“My teammates and coaches this week have been helping me out, giving me confidence and giving me tips and really helping me out,” McQuaid said. “I get in at night, I get in before practice and after practice, getting up shots trying to get that feel back and that confidence up.”
Izzo said Bridges had been cleared medically last week and was able to play on Friday against Northwestern. However, he wasn’t taking any chances with his star player.
It proved to be the right decision as Bridges had a pair of highlight-reel dunks, showing no ill effects from the injury.
“In no way was I going to put him back in any earlier than I thought, or play him any more minutes than I thought,” Izzo said. “He’ll get a rest tomorrow, a little bit, but he really seems to have zero issues. No soreness, no nothing, which is the way I wanted it before I’d bring him back, the reason we waited an extra three or four days of workouts.
“We’ll see how it goes tomorrow morning, but he played less in this than he practiced, I’m sure on a little different level. But that fool was dunking like that yesterday. I had to tie his feet down a little bit. You have to love that about the kid. All he wants to do is help the team and the program win.”
Bridges was so ready to get back, he even told his coach he was being too easy on him.
“I felt like Coach was being nice to me and I didn’t like it,” Bridges said. “I wanted Coach to be on me and pushing me. After I told him that he yelled at me for not getting back on defense.”
Michigan State’s next game is at 1 p.m. Saturday against Penn State at the Palestra in Philadelphia. The arena has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in college basketball while serving as the original host of the Philadelphia Big 5 —a series of games between Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple, La Salle and Villanova.
Izzo has always wanted to play a game at The Palestra, and this is his chance.
“This is gonna be thrilling for me,” Izzo said. “I don’t know about the others. The Palestra probably doesn’t mean as much to the players. It does to me. It’s one of the meccas of college basketball.”