Sophomore forward Miles Bridges scored a team-high 29 points, including 10 of his team’s 12 points in a crucial second half run as Michigan State fought off a pesky Bucknell 82-78 Friday night at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Sophomore guard Josh Langford added 22 points as the Spartans, seeded No. 3 in the Midwest Region, overcame 27 points by Bucknell senior forward Zach Thomas to advance to the second round Sunday against the winner of No. 6 TCU and No. 11 Syracuse.
Michigan State led 44-40 at halftime but held Bucknell without a field goal for more than 11 minutes to build a 14-point lead, 64-50, with 8 minutes, 4 seconds left in regulation. Michigan State made just 5 of 17 3-point attempts but the Spartans shot 63.4 percent on their 2-point shots. Michigan State had an 18-point lead with 4:16 left before Bucknell hit a flurry of 3-point shots to make the final score tight.
WHY MICHIGAN STATE WON: The Spartans got physical. The fouls loaded up against them but they had an advantage inside with Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr., Xavier Tillman and Nick Ward, and they utilized it. The Spartans outscored Bucknell 32-18 on points in the paint and made 26 of 41 shots inside the 3-point line.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Big Ten completes the first round of the tournament a perfect 4-0. Michigan and Ohio State will play for spots in the regional semifinals on Saturday, while Purdue and Michigan State will do the same on Sunday.
WHO STARRED: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo keeps asking for Bridges to become more aggressive, even be a jerk at times, and take over games. That’s exactly what Bridges did in the second half. He had just 4 points through the first 10 minutes of the game but scored 6 late in the half to head to the locker room with 10 points. He was 8 of 14 in the second half with a pair of 3-pointers and a rim-rattling offensive rebound slam dunk that brought the Spartans-heavy crowd to its feet.
WHO STUMBLED: Anyone charged with guarding Bucknell’s Thomas in the first half. He made 6 of 11 shots, including all 3 3-point attempts he took, as he scored 20 points to keep the Bison within striking distance at 44-40. Michigan State rotated Jackson, redshirt junior Kenny Goins, grad student Ben Carter and, on occasion, Bridges but Thomas hit his season average in the first half. The story changed in the second half as Thomas was held to 7 points and fouled out with 6:06 left when he picked up a technical foul.
WHO IS NEXT: Michigan State gets the winner of No. 6 TCU and No. 11 Syracuse on Sunday at Little Caesars Arena. Game time has yet to be determined.