Michigan State defense excels in rout of Minnesota
East Lansing — After slumbering through the early parts of its last couple of games, Michigan State came into Wednesday night’s meeting with Minnesota determined to change that.
Getting a big game from Miles Bridges and arguably the best defensive performance of the season allowed the Spartans to accomplish that goal in a 65-47 victory over No. 24 Minnesota at Breslin Center, completing the season sweep of the Golden Gophers.
“I thought our defense was as good as it’s been,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It was kind of like old times. We did a lot of good things defensively.
“We’ve got so much work to do and we did a great job. We got a little sloppy at the end both with the ball and defensively, but I don’t know if you could ask for more out of a team than to play that kind of defense most of the night.”
The win was the fifth in the last six for Michigan State (12-6, 4-1 Big Ten) and kept the Spartans on top of the crowded Big Ten standings.
Bridges was the catalyst early, scoring all 16 of his points in the first half while grabbing six rebounds and blocking four shots, his best game since returning from an ankle injury three games ago. Fellow freshman Joshua Langford was also effective, scoring 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting.
“In the first half Miles was a man-child,” Izzo said. “He did a lot of great things. It was kind of funny because last week after the game his mother texted me and thought he was too casual and not aggressive and said he’s got to get back to beast mode. So I give her credit. She got him back to beast mode.”
It was the breakout Bridges has been waiting for. Since missing the time with the bad ankle, he has had trouble finding his rhythm. He scored six points against Northwestern and only four in the loss to Penn State.
But he was itching to get back on the floor against the Gophers.
“The first half I was really energetic,” Bridges said. “I’ve been waiting for this team against a ranked opponent and got kind of tired, but once I caught my second wind for the rest of the game I was good.”
While Bridges was doing the scoring early, it was the defense that was busy stifling the Gophers. The Spartans opened a 9-2 lead in the first three minutes of the game before taking off midway through the half and closing on a 15-0 run that turned a seven-point lead into a 39-17 advantage at halftime.
The 17 points allowed were the fewest in a half all season for Michigan State, which twice had allowed 23 coming into the game.
As impressive as the Spartans were offensively, they were just as solid on defense as Minnesota was just 8-for-30 from the field. Freshman Amir Coffey had just two points in the half while Nate Mason was held without a point.
“I felt like we did a great job coming in with defensive energy and focusing in,” Langford said. “We told ourselves we were gonna come in with a chip on our shoulder and things effort-wise. At Penn State we felt like they outworked us and that’s something Michigan State doesn’t stand for and that’s what we wanted to do.”
The Golden Gophers showed some life in the second half and cut the Spartans lead to 54-35 with 7:25 to play after a runner in the lane from Mason and a 3-pointer from Akeem Springs. However, Michigan State scored the next seven points and Minnesota never made another surge.
Mason entered the game averaging more than 14 points a game and finished with 14, all coming in the second half and most in the final minutes with the game out of reach. Dupree McBrayer had 11 points for the Gophers (15-3, 3-2) while Coffey, who was averaging 12.8 points a game, had just four.
“Credit Michigan State, they were obviously the better team,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “We had a lot of missed shots and that affected our energy and our discipline. We know Michigan State gets better and better (as the season goes) and we were not very good at all.”