'Reality check': Spartans survive scares vs. Ferris State
East Lansing — It was hard to determine what had Michigan State fans holding their breath more on Thursday night at the Breslin Center.
The fact Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Miles Bridges slammed his head on the court in the first half or that the Spartans, ranked No. 2 in the preseason coaches’ poll, found itself in a nail-biter with Division II Ferris State.
It all worked out for Michigan State. Bridges, who got a cut over his right eye from the first-half fall, returned after halftime and Michigan State pulled away late for the 80-72 victory in the exhibition opener.
“You’ve got to give Ferris State a lot of credit,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I told my guys they were coming in one of the top Division II teams in the country, picked to win their league by a landslide and they had some junkyard dogs that played hard.
“In a way, it was good for us.”
Good because the Spartans were tested right out of the gate, and while Izzo wasn’t happy with his team’s defense, there was a benefit to playing to win in the second half.
“That was a good team,” sophomore guard Cassius Winston said. “They played hard, hit some shots and things like that. It was a good test for us, a reality check almost a little bit. We’ve been getting a lot of praise right now and we have to figure out what type of team we’re gonna be and win those games. We came down and made some big plays to win the game but at the end of the day we’ve got a long road ahead of us if we’re gonna play like that.”
Bridges scored 19 for the Spartans, but it was Winston that sparked a second-half surge as he scored 21 of his 26 points in the second half. Winston was 8-for-13 from the field, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range. Freshman Jaren Jackson had 14 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks in his Michigan State debut.
D’angelo Hughes scored 14 to lead Ferris State, which won a program-record 28 games last season and has captured three straight GLIAC championships. Noah King and Drew Cushingberry added 13 each for the Bulldogs while Zach Hankins scored 12.
“We’re happy on one hand but you always put a game plan together to win a game,” Ferris State coach Andy Bronkema said. “We didn’t execute well enough. It’s disappointing overall but it was a special experience to play in this environment. The guys loved it.”
While the close nature of the game had fans worried, it was Bridges’ fall with about 7:30 to play in the opening half that had them nervous. Ferris State’s Jaylin McFadden took a pass on the wing, pump-faked the 3-pointer as Bridges soared through the air. McFadden made the fake then dribbled to his right and clipped Bridges’ legs, sending him crashing to the ground.
The training staff quickly was at Bridges’ side and put a towel to the right side of his head as the Breslin Center grew quiet. After a few minutes, Bridges stood up and walked to the locker room, holding the towel and waving to the crowd.
Bridges said after the game he took four stitches but never thought about sitting the second half.
“I told him at halftime, ‘You don’t have to play in the second half,’” Izzo said. “He looked at me like I was crazy so I decided to play him.”
Michigan State was sluggish early and trailed 38-35 at halftime but regained the lead at 42-40 on a pair of Joshua Langford free throws. With the game tied at 60 later in the half, the Spartans finally started to pull away.
Matt McQuaid hit a 3-pointer followed by a Winston layup. Two free throws from Bridges put the Spartans ahead, 67-61, but after a McQuaid miss the Bulldogs scored in transition to trim the margin to 67-63. Michigan State continued to pull away, extending the lead to 78-65 with two minutes to play, effectively putting the game away.
“(Getting tested) is honestly good at any time,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t call it a test, that’s just a team coming in and playing hard. We just have to match that energy and be greater than that.”