No. 4 Michigan State (16-2 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) eked past Rutgers (11-7, 1-4) for a 76-72 win in overtime on Wednesday in East Lansing, Mich.
The Spartans managed to get back in the win column after a loss at Ohio State on Sunday, but it did not seem to be a confidence builder. Michigan State trailed late in the second half and needed a tying free throw from Miles Bridges to earn an extra session.
WHY: Rutgers played tremendous defense, and Michigan State could not get open looks. Any drives were met with multiple big bodies down low, and open jumpers were few and far between. The Spartans didn’t respond well, forcing tough passes and taking tough shots. When they found Nick Ward down low, they thrived. Eventually enough players made big shots down the stretch.
WHAT IT MEANS: Michigan State needed this. Having played in so many blowouts, the Spartans didn’t have much experience dealing with the adversity of a close game when they struggled to put points on the board. Down the road, it may serve Michigan State well to know how to handle such situations without getting frustrated and out of rhythm.
The lob 👍
The finish 👍
— Michigan St. on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) January 11, 2018
WHO STARRED: Ward. Whereas he struggled in Michigan State’s last game against Rutgers, he carved out space down low and made himself available throughout the game. On defense, he deftly defended screens and recovered beautifully. Ward finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the game.
WHO STUMBLED: Bridges. He came on late in the game with several key buckets, but Michigan State’s sophomore star spent most of the game scoreless and struggled to create his own shot. It became evident he was frustrated, but he eventually fought through. Had he managed to hit both free throws with 8 seconds left, the Spartans could have avoided overtime. But on the other hand, they likely would’ve lost if he had not hit one. Bridges finished with 11 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
WHO WAS THERE: The Izzone. Michigan State alumni did well to create a hostile environment for opponents to play in while the school was on break, but the players surely appreciated having their rowdy student section in attendance. They would’ve been louder had they been given more to cheer about, though.
WHO IS NEXT: Michigan State stays home for a battle with in-state rival Michigan on Saturday. The game is scheduled to tip off at 12 p.m. ET on FOX. It will be the only meeting between the Spartans and Wolverines this season.
There's your final. First game decided by single digits at the Breslin Center this year. pic.twitter.com/bbmN7JRVcE
— Luke Srodulski (@lsrodulski) January 11, 2018