DETROIT — Miles Bridges said last April he had unfinished business. That’s why he put the NBA on hold for at least another year.
Bridges returned to Michigan State for nights like Friday at Little Caesars Arena where the announced crowd of more than 20,000 wore green, and it wasn’t in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. He returned because he wants to be a part of something that only two other Michigan State teams can claim — being a national champion. But Bridges returned because he wants to be more than just part of a title-winning team. He wants to lead this team.
Critics have questioned his aggressiveness, or his willingness to be as aggressive as he needs to be to be the leader he wants to be. Tom Izzo, his coach, is no critic but he does push Bridges to be more of “a jerk” on the court and dictate what happens.
Bridges was a big jerk Friday night against Bucknell.
Bridges scored 29 points, including 19 in the second half, to lead the No. 3 seed Spartans past No. 14 Bucknell, 82-78. Before the Bison made 6 3-point shots in the final 3 minutes, 15 seconds of the game, it was Bridges who took control over a 7-minute span of the second half in a manner that made Izzo beam. Bridges scored 12 of the Spartans’ 14 points and grabbed 5 rebounds, including a slam dunk off an offensive rebound that shook all of Breslin Center East.
“The great part is he responded, and he was so fired up when we started going to him. That’s why I did that,” Izzo said. “Will that kick-start him to be more selfish? I don’t know. I have not been disappointed in Miles’ play but I did think he took over that game. What I liked about it is he had 3 offensive rebounds that he scored on, and the dunk. That was all coaching.”
Michigan State expanded what had been a tenuous 44-40 lead at halftime to 14 points, 66-52, by the time Bridges was done putting his stamp on the game. The lead would grow to as many as 18 points before the Bison began their comeback.
Bridges’ slam off a Nick Ward miss was his biggest jerk moment.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 17, 2018
“I kind of figured Nick was going to miss that one. He was off-balanced so I wanted to get it off the rim,” Bridges said.
When Bridges has his mind set on taking over a game, there aren’t many who can stop him.
“He was pretty impressive on film,” said Bucknell coach Nathan Davis. “I would say the same about in-person. I think the thing that you don’t quite see as much on film is how high he gets when he shoots the pull-ups.
“I thought we were there to contest a lot. Just because of how athletic and big he is, he’s able to get up and get a clean look anyway. He’s very strong. You don’t see as much of his strength when you’re watching film until you see him in person, but he’s a really, really good player.”
Bucknell was the first test of the NCAA Tournament. Next up is a Sunday date with No. 11 Syracuse, which beat No. 6 TCU 57-52 Friday. This is why Miles Bridges returned. Game time is set for 2:40 p.m. ET on CBS.
“It was great for me. It really boost my confidence,” said Bridges. “I’m going to have to bring that for the next five games.”