Paradise Island, Bahamas — Michigan State spent the first 30 minutes playing with energy and building a huge lead, then the last 10 nearly giving it all away.
Still, the 24th-ranked Spartans came away from the Battle 4 Atlantis with a win — and the end of a brutally tough opening month of the schedule in sight.
Miles Bridges scored 21 points to help Michigan State hold off Wichita State 77-72 on Friday in the Battle 4 Atlantis third-place game.
Eron Harris added 13 points for the Spartans (4-3), who bounced back from Thursday’s loss to No. 20 Baylor in a game that left coach Tom Izzo saying his injury-hit team looked “awfully tired” and maybe a bit overwhelmed by the early schedule.
“There’s no question that this team has been through a lot,” Izzo said. “But that’s what I challenged them with. I don’t challenge them with effort, heart, I don’t challenge them very often with character issues. But I did challenge their character a little bit.”
Izzo said he sensed “great focus” from his players Friday morning.
“The most important thing is finding a way to get off the mat,” he said. “That is the most important lesson I can teach these guys whether it be in life or in basketball.”
Michigan State led by 18 midway through the half and held a 15-point lead with 8:05 left, only to see the Shockers (5-2) turn to fullcourt pressure to get back in it. Wichita State ran off a 14-0 run to get to 66-65 on Daishon Smith’s layup over Bridges with 4:13 left.
“We got stops,” Smith said. “We were able to put our athleticism into the game, and that’s what we did.”
But the Shockers couldn’t quite push ahead. Bridges and fellow freshman Cassius Winston hit key 3-pointers. And when the Shockers had one more chance to tie it, Smith missed a long straightaway 3.
Bridges grabbed the rebound and hit two clinching free throws with 4.7 seconds left.
Darral Willis scored 16 points to lead Wichita State, which shot 36 percent.
As bad as things looked midway through the second half, the Shockers showed a downright scary full-court press to get back in it. Coach Gregg Marshall has tried to talk more about defense than the team’s offensive potential during three days in Atlantis; that finish might have reinforced it to his team, too.
Marshall also didn’t rule out the possibility of using pressure defense more going forward.
“I’ll just have to evaluate us and evaluate my coaching and evaluate our personnel and try to figure out a way to play more like the team in the second half than the team in the first half,” he said.
The Spartans looked fresh and showed a balanced offense for about 30 minutes. From there, they did just enough to hang on.
“We didn’t beat the Lakers, but we won a big game,” Izzo said, “and we did it with old-style grit for 90 percent of that game.”