Miles Bridges soars in return, Michigan State rolls

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Spartans freshman sensation Miles Bridges skies over Rutgers' Issa Thiam (35) for a tomahawk dunk on a feed from Cassius Winston in the second half as Michigan State beats Rutgers, 93-65, Wednesday night, Jan. 4, 2017, at Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan.

East Lansing — There wasn’t much of a buzz at Breslin Center on Wednesday night when Michigan State hosted Rutgers. It was the final home game before students returned to campus, and with the Izzone missing, so was the energy.

Enter Miles Bridges, the star freshman who had missed the last seven games with an ankle injury.

Just 16 seconds into his first playing time in more than a month, Bridges took a lob pass from Matt McQuaid and dunked it home less than five minutes into the game, one that turned one-sided late as Michigan State cruised to a 93-65 victory over Rutgers.

That play, Bridges said afterward, is never open in practice. On this night, however, there was one way he could describe it.

“Amazing,” Bridges said.

BOX SCORE: Michigan State 93, Rutgers 65

But that play proved to be just the warm-up act. In the second half, Bridges brought the house to its feet when he took another lob from Cassius Winston in transition and pounded in a one-handed dunk.

“That was just me and Cash knowing each other really well,” Bridges said. “Cash knows where to throw the ball to. I was actually surprised I got up that high because I haven’t done it in a while.”

It had been a while, all right. The last time Bridges played was Nov. 29 at Duke. Seven games later, he was back on the court, playing 17 minutes and finishing with six points, six rebounds and two blocks. It was a supplement on a night that Eron Harris rediscovered his shot, scoring 24 points to lead the Spartans (11-5, 3-0 Big Ten). Nick Ward had 15 points, six rebounds with four blocks while Matt McQuaid scored 12.

“I thought he played pretty well considering,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He was out five-and-a-half weeks or whatever it was and he came back and brought some energy. He was so excited these last three days, it was kind of funny to watch. Here is a very good player and he was like a kid in a candy story. That part of it was good.

“I thought he did some good things, was a little sloppy on some screens and that he has to improve on, but in general we did a good job of playing within ourselves playing with him. All in all it was a successful night.”

Corey Sanders scored 22 to lead Rutgers (11-5, 0-3). Nigel Johnson had 15 and C.J. Gettys 10.

“They have a lot of weapons,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “Ward is playing great and Bridges comes back and gives them a terrific player. They’re young but extremely talented and when the veteran guys start chipping in it’s hard to take away anything.”

Bridges first checked into the game with 15:56 left in the first half and played 10 minutes, scoring four points, grabbing four rebounds and blocking a shot. His second basket, a runner in the lane, was followed by a pair of free throws from Ward that gave Michigan State its biggest lead of the half, 41-26.

For a short stretch late in the opening half, Michigan State coach went with four freshmen on the floor as Bridges joined Winston, Ward and Joshua Langford, who all started the game. When Bridges joins them to open the game remains to be seen, but Saturday against Penn State would be the first opportunity.

After scoring nine total points in the first two Big Ten games, Harris had 13 in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers while going 5-for-5 from the free-throw line. Rutgers got off to a quick start, scoring the game’s first six points as Johnson and Sanders each scored 10 in the first half.

The Spartans built on the lead in the second half with a 9-1 run sparked by a Kyle Ahrens 3-pointer and a steal and layup from McQuaid. It pushed Michigan State’s lead to 63-43 with 12:04 to play, its biggest of the game at that point.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Izzo said. “We did get some positive things. We shot the ball better, we shot the ball better from three, we shot the ball better from the free-throw line. We didn’t turn it over much but when we did it was those casual, sloppy turnovers. It was nice to get Eron Harris going a little bit. It was nice to get Matt McQuaid going a little bit. We do that that and all of a sudden Nick Ward doesn’t do as much. But welcome to the big time. Welcome to being on the first page of the scouting report instead of the third.”