MSU does 'dirty work' in dumping North Carolina
Portland, Ore — Michigan State headed to the PK80 Invitational with a young team looking to learn something about winning in a tournament setting.
The only thing that stood in the way for the fourth-ranked Spartans on Sunday at the Moda Center was No. 9 North Carolina, a team that had steamrolled its way to the Victory Bracket championship and happened to have beaten Michigan State seven straight times.
Thanks to a career night from Joshua Langford and an impressive defensive performance, Michigan State snapped that losing skid and earned the tournament title with a 63-45 victory over the Tar Heels.
Langford scored a career-high 23 points and made a career-best five 3-pointers and the defense held North Carolina to its lowest shooting percentage (24.6) in program history, including a 1-for-18 from 3-point range (5.6 percent), also a program low.
“Today we won an ugly way, and that’s OK,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “What I think this does is reassure our guys. Basketball now is all the pretty stuff, but at the end of the day most of the good teams are still winning by doing the dirty work. Defense and rebounding — that hasn’t changed in a long, long, long time. So, it’s not gonna change, at least in my program.”
Michigan State (5-1) beat a top-10 team for the first time in five games and provided some momentum heading into Thursday’s matchup with No. 13 Notre Dame — which just won the Maui Invitational — in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The Spartans had last beaten a team ranked in the top 10 on Jan. 23, 2016 when it defeated Maryland. Since then it had lost Duke twice, Arizona, Kentucky and Kansas. It was also Izzo’s second win over Roy Williams and first with Williams at North Carolina.
“That was about as bad an exhibition as I’ve ever seen,” Williams said. “As poor a coaching job and getting my team ready as any team I’ve ever coached. They were physically, mentally, emotionally more into the game than my club was. Missed layups, missed free throws, didn’t rebound the basketball. We shoot 24 percent from the floor, 1-for-18 from the 3-point line.
“Their coach is one of the greatest coaches in the game and I don’t even know if he thinks his team played great, but he got his club to play a lot better than I got my club to play tonight.”
Miles Bridges scored 11 points while Nick Ward had seven points, eight rebounds and four blocks.
But it was Langford that got things rolling, scoring 14 of his points in the first half.
“Well, it was a career high,” the understated Langford said. “There were some things I wish I did better out there but this is a great team win because we won the game on the defensive end.”
That they did as only one Tar Heel reached double figures as Theo Pinson scored 16 to lead North Carolina (5-1).
It was also a dominating performance on the glass for Michigan State, which outrebounded North Carolina, 52-36, a little more than a week after giving up 25 offensive rebounds in a loss to Duke.
“They say defense and rebounding win championships,” Izzo said. “This was a championship we won that way. Carolina is a lot better than they played and I think we’re a little better offensively than we played. So, their defense deserves some credit but I thought our defense was the difference in the game.”
The defense was on point early as Michigan State was looking for a quicker start than it had the first two games of the tournament. While the Tar Heels were misfiring, the Spartans were getting their early spark from Langford, who scored in transition to help open a 14-6 lead.
Michigan State pushed the lead to 33-17 when Cassius Winston drove to the hoop and scored on a layup with 6.1 seconds to play, but a 3-pointer at the buzzer from Joel Berry, however, cut the Michigan State lead to 37-23 headed to the locker room.
North Carolina opened the second half with a quick surge, cutting Michigan State’s lead to 39-29 as the Spartans turned the ball over four times in the first three minutes of the half. However, Langford hit a 3-pointer, Lowrawls Nairn Jr. scored on a layup in transition and Langford hit another 3 ahead of another Nairn drive as the Spartans took a 50-31 lead with 12:49 to play, their biggest of the game at that point.
That lead grew to 54-33 after a pair of free throws from McQuaid but North Carolina battled back and cut it to 55-43 on a pair of Pinson free throws with 4:32 to play. Bridges answered with a running layup and Jaren Jackson Jr. nailed a 3-pointer to help hold off the Tar Heels’ rally.
“We beat a good team but we’re a good team,” Izzo said. “So, we didn’t accomplish the world. We won a game and now we get back with probably another top-10 team coming in Notre Dame, who comes off Maui playing really, really well. So, we’re still taking it a step at a time. The good news is we’ve got a lot of work to do and they know it.”