Michigan State's Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr., Cassius Winston, and Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn met the media following Tuesday night's victory over Illinois. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
East Lansing — It was Senior Night at the Breslin Center on Tuesday, and deservedly so, the attention was on Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter.
Each kissed the Spartan logo at center court. Each was honored in a postgame ceremony. Each soaked up every minute.
But for at least one other player, it sure felt like a big part of an 81-61 victory over Illinois that clinched a share of the Big Ten championship was a farewell.
That player, of course, is sophomore Miles Bridges. He surprised many last spring when he opted to return to Michigan State for another season and put off life in the NBA. On Tuesday night, the crowd chanted, “One more year,” as Bridges stood at the free throw-line late in the game. He flashed a quick smile, and when he checked out of the game, there was a wave to the fans.
No kissing the logo, though. That, he said last week, was for the seniors.
“When they started chanting, ‘One more year,’ I was chanting, ‘Thank God for this year,’” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo joked after the game.
It sure seems, unlike last season, that Bridges has played his final home game for the Spartans. He addressed the crowd after the game and told them there’s more work ahead. In the locker room, with the Big Ten championship trophy a couple feet away, he did his best to avoid directly answering the question after the game.
“I just want to continue to win for our team, for the fans, and continue to bring trophies back,” Bridges said.
But it had a different feel this time. He stopped short a couple times of talking about his career at Michigan State in the past tense, instead opting to focus on the seniors and winning a Big Ten title.
“It was tough for me,” Bridges said. “Every chapter I close is tough. My last game here, for the season. They’re the best fans in the nation so I’m kinda sad I can’t play here for the rest of the season.”
The rest of the season still has plenty to go, just none of it will be at home. Bridges said the focus now is on getting the outright title by beating Wisconsin on Sunday, then it’s on to the Big Ten tournament and the ultimate goal, winning a national title.
“This is why I came back, to make memories,” Bridges said. “That banner will be up there forever, those memories will be there forever. (Tonight) was great for me.”
Izzo said he doesn’t know what Bridges’ plans are, but he’s not making any assumptions.
“I’m not kidding myself on what he’s gonna do,” said Izzo, “but I will tell you this, he doesn’t ever talk about it. He just plays and that’s what so unique about him.”
And if it was, indeed, his final game in front of the home fans, Bridges hopes he was remembered much the same way Nairn will be.
“Just gave my all to this program,” Bridges said. “Never took a day off. Always wanted to win.”
Bridges wasn’t the only non-senior that might have played his final home game on Tuesday.
Freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. is high atop most of the NBA mock draft boards and he has a good chance to be taken ahead of Bridges if both decide to leave early.
Jackson said the time will come for him to decide, but Tuesday night was not it.
“I mean, obviously, everybody likes to think about it themselves but personally I was just thinking about (the seniors),” Jackson said. “I wasn’t really thinking about myself in any sort of way, but obviously the time will come after the season where I have to think about it. Right now I’m just happy for them.”
IZZO STILL MUM
Izzo was asked in the postgame by an ESPN reporter if he intended address reports on sexual assault.
“You know, I don’t know when I will but I definitely know that, even though, as I said, I do appreciate that you guys do have questions,” Izzo said. “I think I’ve said a few things and I think our president has said a few things and right now I’m just gonna focus in on my team. Not shunning anything but focusing in on my team and I appreciate that.”
Interim MSU president John Engler said last week a report from ESPN naming a current player that was being investigated for sexual assault was “weak.”