East Lansing — Miles Bridges isn’t your average freshman, so it’s understandable that Tom Izzo has been especially cautious when it comes to pushing his star player after he missed seven games with an ankle injury.
Bridges returned on Jan. 4 against Rutgers, and since then, Izzo and the Michigan State staff have been meticulous in sticking to the plan — not allowing Bridges to play for more than 3-4 minutes at a time in an effort to limit any further issues with ankle.
Heading into Saturday’s meeting with Indiana at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., it appears that strict regimen might be a thing of the past.
“I’m expecting that now we pull the gloves off as far as not having to worry about the minutes as much,” Izzo said this week.
That hasn’t been the case yet as Bridges played 17 minutes against Rutgers, 27 in the loss to Penn State and back down to 22 in the win over Minnesota.
While Bridges played 32 minutes in the loss at Ohio State last weekend, it did come in smaller stints. It was the first one that had fans up in arms after Michigan State jumped on the Buckeyes early but made wholesale substitutions — Bridges included — less than four minutes into the game.
That’s when Ohio State closed the gap and went ahead, creating a tight game the entire way instead of one the Spartans might have been able to maintain a lead.
Bridges was still the best player on the court, scoring 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting while grabbing nine rebounds.
“It was great to see Miles, even with a couple of turnovers and a couple of them were weird turnovers, it was nice to see him being so efficient,” Izzo said. “He seems to be in a better shape, but that is because we were playing him in three and three-and-a-half minute stretches. That has been a negative, but it has also been a positive. He has rested. He played 30 minutes, but he is getting some breaks instead of playing 10 minutes and then sitting for a couple of minutes and doing it that way.”
Bridges said he’s now the player he was before the injury, saying the Ohio State game was evidence he’s back to his old self.
“I feel like I’m 100 percent,” Bridges said. “In practice I’ve been doing everything and my foot’s not even hurting, so I feel like I’m all the way back and I guess that is why I was playing so good.”
Izzo doesn’t doubt Bridges is completely healed from the ankle injury. In fact, Izzo wasn’t about to take any chances by playing Bridges before that was the case.
What he does still wonder about his whether he’s back as far as conditioning so he can play longer stretches, and maybe most importantly, whether he’s fully integrated back into the system with the rest of the team.
Since Bridges’ return, several players have seen a drop-off, including guard Cassius Winston and guard Eron Harris, though his inconsistencies have been an issue all season. Getting everything to fit again with Bridges back is still one of Michigan State’s top priorities.
“We tried to simplify a few things and I think it really helped us in the last couple games, but I would like to not have to simplify things and get guys more where they can play off a feel,” Izzo said. “I’d like to see him get a rebound and go a little bit. But he’s not there yet, and he actually did what we asked him to do and do very well, and you can’t argue the 9 for 12.
“I think this is a week where we can get him acclimated to the team part. The conditioning part is still a little a little bit harder than you think, because it’s not like we want to go out there and run him, run him, run him, run him.”
Not that Bridges will be holding back. He sees no more limits in his game, and that could be the difference as Michigan State fights to stay in the Big Ten race.
“Miles Bridges, unbelievable job,” Izzo said. “I mean, he missed six weeks. He’s come back and he doesn’t complain about anything. He wants to play more minutes. He wanted to come back two weeks earlier. I was worried about his future. He wasn’t. He was worried about our guys and our program.”
Miles Bridges' numbers since his return
|At Penn State||27||2-8||0-3||6||4|
|At Ohio State||32||9-12||4-5||9||24|