Team-first mentality gets Kansas’ Jackson on track

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Tulsa, Okla. — Much was made of the battle between Michigan State’s Miles Bridges and Kansas’ Josh Jackson on Sunday night.

The two childhood friends who nearly became college teammates squared off in the second round of the Midwest Regional at the BOK Center and neither player disappointed. Jackson scored 23 on 9-for-16 shooting while Bridges scored 22 and eight rebounds in Kansas’ 90-70 victory.

Jackson, the Detroit native who played his last two high school seasons at Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif., after leading Detroit Consortium to a state title as a sophomore, picked Kansas over Michigan State last spring and it proved to be the right choice for him. He sparked the Jayhawks’ 21-6 surge late in the second half to pull away and send his team to the Sweet 16.

He started slowly on Sunday, however, and blamed some of that on getting too amped up for his matchup with Bridges.

“One thing the coaching staff told me before the game was just to make sure I didn’t come out too excited, and I tried to keep that in my head,” Jackson said. “And I came out and was still just a little too excited. I tried to force stuff a little bit.

“But as the game went on, I felt like the game started slowing down, it came to me a little bit more. And I just had to realize it was just another game, and it was about Kansas basketball versus Michigan State, and it wasn’t about me versus Miles.”

Jackson has also known Michigan State freshman Cassius Winston since early grade-school days and knew his childhood friends would battle.

“I feel like we’re all competitors,” Jackson said. “I’ve been knowing those guys for a long time, and one thing that I do know about both of them is they both really like to win. So I knew it was going to be a fun game before it even started. So it was just really fun to be able to go out there and play against those guys and really proud to see them here and having success.”

With Bridges and Jackson matching up for most of the game, things got chippy more than once as the old friends weren’t about to back down.

However, that’s exactly how they expected it.

“It’s always good playing against Josh,” Bridges said. “It gets a little physical at times. We compete every time we play against each other. He’s a great player. He’s going to have huge success in the league, so it’s always good playing against him.”

Dip in his hip

Bridges was playing at a bit of a disadvantage for much of the game after taking an elbow to the right hip in the first half, an injury that forced him out of the game and required a trip to the locker room.

Bridges had a large ice pack on his hip following the game and admitted it limited his movement throughout the rest of the game.

“It was pretty hard,” Bridges said. “I caught an elbow in the hip. I was kind of slow when I was on defense. I couldn’t make sharp movements. I couldn’t get up like I wanted to. But I had to fight through for my team. That wouldn’t have kept me out for the world. I had to play this game.”

Slam dunks

Michigan State is now 21-5 in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend under Izzo, including 7-4 as the lower seeded team. Michigan State has a 15-5 record in round of 32 games since 1985, including 13-2 under Izzo.

… Izzo is now 14-11 in the NCAA Tournament when Michigan State is the lower-seeded team. The 14 wins are the most all-time in NCAA Tournament history.

… Bridges reached double-digit scoring for the 25th time this season, scoring a team-high 22 points. Combined with his 18-point, nine-rebound performance in Friday’s win over Miami, he averaged 20.0 points and 11.0 rebounds in two NCAA games this weekend. @mattcharboneau