Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, forward Miles Bridges and guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. addressed the media following the ninth-seeded Spartans’ season-ending 90-70 loss to No. 1 Kansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
What follows is a transcript of Michigan State coach’s and player’s comments, per ASAP Sports:
COACH IZZO: Well, I’d first like to give credit to Kansas. I thought they played an exceptional last 8, 10 minutes. They were really good, and I thought that was the difference. You know, with 12 minutes left it’s a 1-point game. With seven minutes left, it’s a 5-point game. And then they just took over. I don’t know if it was the veterans, a combination of veterans and youth.
I thought our defense was really good early, other than a couple bad shots that led to layups. I thought we did an incredible job on (Frank) Mason (III) as far as letting him do what he does, and that’s that fast break that’s so lethal for him. But the gaps started getting bigger as we got a little tired, and we started missing some shots.
The only shame of the whole event for me is it wasn’t a 20-point game, and yet, the better team won tonight. In saying that, I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a group of guys, these two (Bridges and Nairn) especially. Miles, unfortunately, sustained a hip pointer there early and still battled through it, and give him a lot of credit for that. And Tum’s done an unbelievable job all year keeping this crew together.
I think a lot of guys could have folded, a lot of teams could have folded. They didn’t. Proud of them and yet have great respect for the job Kansas did today, their fans. They played well.
Q. Tom, in trying to assess how good Kansas is this season and what their chances are the rest of the tournament, looks like their only real weakness is a lack of depth. You assess this game and they pull away at the end. They did not look tired at all. They did not look like depth was an issue. What are your thoughts on that?
IZZO: I think depth could be an issue. I do, if they get in foul trouble. We thought that — give a lot of credit, they put in the Coleby kid (Dwight Coleby), and I think he got four or five points and a couple big rebounds, but we thought that Lucas was really tiring during that stretch when we cut it to 5. Those two guards aren’t going to tire no matter what. But foul trouble could be a factor.
I didn’t think that, you know, when we moved the ball we got some good shots. I think they’re good defensively, but it’s a different Kansas team, you know. The high to low, the lock-down defense maybe isn’t quite the same as it’s been over the years. But they can score with anybody and they can run. We put a lot into that transition. And even though it seemed like the first half they got some, they got some out of some bad shots, long rebounds. But actual transition, I thought we did a pretty good job.
So, hey, they’re one of the best teams in the country. That’s why they’ve been ranked No. 1. They got one of the best coaches in the country and they’ve got a Player of the Year candidate for our country. So that’s enough. A little bit of youth, a lot of experience, good coach, 16,000 fans or however many were here. That’s a recipe for some success, and I think they have a good chance to have some success.
Q. Miles, we know that your relationship with (Kansas’ Josh) Jackson goes way back. Can you kind of talk about that battle today? Looked like you guys were really on each other and it was really a heated thing between you guys. Can you kind of talk about what it was like to play against him tonight?
BRIDGES: It’s always good playing against Josh. It gets a little physical at times. We compete every time we play against each other. He’s a great player. He’s going to have huge success in the league, so it’s always good playing against him.
Q. Miles, can you just talk about getting hurt early and fighting through that and how it affected you, if at all?
BRIDGES: Yeah. I caught an elbow in the hip. I was kind of slow when I was on defense. I couldn’t make sharp movements. I couldn’t get up like I wanted to. But I had to fight through for my team. That wouldn’t have kept me out for the world. I had to play this game.
Q. Miles, the way you guys played these last two games, does it leave a better taste for the season than maybe it was after Minnesota — I mean, with Miami? And you guys took some punches and came back quite a bit tonight.
BRIDGES: Yeah. I mean, we gave it all we had both games. I don’t have any regrets about this team. We played hard. We played to the best of our ability. And I love my team for that. And we have a special bond together. So I wouldn’t trade this year for nothing.
Q. When you had some injuries to Tum and some foul trouble earlier with (Alvin) Ellis (III), when Kansas started to break it way, it was with Mason scoring for himself but also drawing some defenders and dishing it. You had to go deep in your bench to play some defense. Can you talk about the difficulty of guarding him for an entire 40 minutes and did it start to break away at that point in your opinion?
IZZO: As I’ve talked to a lot of you guys about, we do have a couple of things that we have to get better at. We have a couple of guys that are better on offense and a couple of guys that are better on defense. The offensive guys have got to get better defensively, and the defensive guys have got to get better offensively.
When you look at it, I’d like to piggyback off what (Bridges) said. First of all, for him to come out of the game, he was hurt more than I wanted him to be. He could hardly walk down there. And that was one thing. The second thing is, you know, this team had some shortcomings. And so sometimes when writers, when people who follow us, when fans don’t understand that when you put certain guys in ball screens, if one guy’s not as good, the other guy can help, but when both guys struggle a little bit on that, that’s a problem.
And all year what I was trying to do is coach for games like this. I wasn’t coaching to win games. I don’t need to win any games. I mean, that’s — that’s good, but it’s not — that doesn’t really excite me. What excites me is getting good enough to compete in these kind of games, and I think we learned a little bit in those last ten minutes, that we got some work to do in that respect.
But what Miles said is true. There are a lot of teams around the country in the last two or three years that would have crumbled what we went through. I mean, his injury out there today was — I don’t want to say this in a bad way, Miles, like poetic justice. Is it going to end just like it started, with the injuries. And nobody’s fault. Nothing happened. But when there are seven minutes and we’re down five and I could see we were struggling a little bit and we were starting to struggle hard on the defensive end, the gaps were getting bigger. Just what you said, the penetration was getting better and that’s when they started kicking it out for those 3s.
You know, those are the whole game plan was to keep it in tight like we did most of the game. But that’s what happens. Great team, rose to the occasion. I think some of the young guys got a little bit out of it and the combination wasn’t pretty for the last 6 minutes.
Q. Tom, can you kind of speak to just how this entire freshman class has grown over the last year and what you’ve kind of seen out of them?
IZZO: You know, we were sitting in the room and Miles and Tum, and I thanked everybody after the game. I said I was going to have a meeting when I get back with my media. You have no idea what this year was like. But I think everybody takes that as a negative. You have no idea what a rewarding experience it was for me.
These guys, you know, Miles is a special guy. I mean, I got four really good freshmen, but I got three really good ones and I got a star right now, and he’s physically played that way and mentally played that way. And for those guys to hang in there like they did, I mean, we pushed them.
You know, I’ll never forget, I think it was January when he came back, you know, his comments to me were keep pushing me, keep pushing me. I think they all wanted that. I don’t think some of them understood what it takes, and I think maybe all of us, writers, fans and players and coaches understand that if you want to play, when I say at this level, I don’t mean the Big Ten. I don’t mean at Michigan State. I mean at the national level. You have to do certain things, and that’s what I prepare for.
So if I’m hard on a guy on things he’s not doing and he’s not guarding somebody and everybody thinks this and thinks that, I’m sorry. I have no interest, zero interest in winning games. I have interest in winning championships. I have interest in these guys getting a chance to play on these kind of stages. That’s it. That’s my only goal in life and then watching them fulfill their dreams. So that other stuff has no bearing on me, none.
Q. Tom, you spoke yesterday about how much you appreciated how hard a kid like Josh Jackson plays and then today seeing him on both ends. I mean, he scored his share of points, made some shots. But breaking up lobs and blocking shots at the rim, I suppose his game sort of gets to what you were talking about yesterday?
IZZO: Josh is a hell of a player. Like Miles said. I laugh because I’ve watched Josh and Miles go at it for probably three or four years. And let me reassure you on something, he’s won more than his share of battles in those battles.
Today, you know, I give all the credit in the world to Josh. I thought he’s improved his jump shot a lot. And he does play hard, you know, but I look at the stats and I look at the game and I think about the injury and the time he missed. I’m really, really proud of Miles. And you know what, I’m proud of Josh.
I think what they have, we wanted to beat his brains in today. I’m sure the feeling was mutual. But there’s respect, and respect means there will be a friendship when it’s over. And just like Josh was to me after the game.
So you know what, two great players going at it. The stats were somewhat the same, and but I think Josh has really played well. He’s really come on. It’s — if I could stick up for my guy a little bit, because — I don’t need to because I’m going to rip him when I get home anyway. But Josh got a pretty good supporting cast around him and we got a very young supporting cast around us. And I think what he’s accomplished, I don’t know many freshmen could have done that and that includes back to that guy they called the magic man. You know, when you put a lot of pressure on people and they respond like they did and consider you missed the five, six weeks during the year, Josh belongs at Kansas, done a hell of a job. I wouldn’t trade my guy for the world.
Q. Tom, it’s a little bit on the rare side for coaches who have national championships to meet this early in the tournament. Coaches in the Hall of Fame obviously. Bill had some nice things to say, some complimentary things to say about you and your style and your program. I wonder from your perspective what was that like today?
IZZO: Well, it was not enjoyable, you know, the last — up until the last 10 minutes it was very enjoyable. I thought we were competing. I thought their crowd was great. Ours tried to hang in there even though it was probably 1,000 to 15,000, whatever. But I thought both teams were playing hard and playing well.
And you know, we made our mistakes, but we took some punches, got down 6, 8, came back, cut it. Got down again, came back, cut it. There’s some character in the guys I got. But Bill’s always coached that way.
I think my biggest objective in life is to make sure that we have consistency in our program. When you win 12 or 13 conference championships in a row, that speaks volumes. And not only in my mind should he be in the Hall of Fame, but he will be in the Hall of Fame and deservedly so because that’s consistency over a period of time. It’s not a five-year run or a seven-year run.
When you take those two guards, you know, you gotta give those two guards a lot of credit. They were going to Towson State and Northern Michigan. Is that where those two guys were going at one time? App State. It’s close. Northern Michigan is a little better than App State. It’s where I went. But anyway, those guys started out going there and built themselves into the players that they are. Credit goes to Bill and his staff, credit goes to those players.
So Bill and I have gone against each other for a long time, from the Tulsa days when we played and the year we won it to the Illinois days, and I have great respect for what they’ve done and how they’ve done it. And he’s got a chance. He’s going to go against, what, Purdue now next. That’ll be an interesting matchup, but they got a good team.
Q. Tum Tum, thinking back to early January, there’s a game in Philadelphia where you got on to Miles pretty good at one point in the game. It was sort of a memorable moment with the freshmen all struggling. When you watched the group collectively today take punches and come back, can you put into words the growth you’ve seen and sort of — obviously the roster may not be identical next year but the excitement you may have for next year?
NAIRN JR.: Man, this whole year has been a blessing for me, man. Like I said at the beginning of the season when these guys first came in, I love being around them off the floor more than being on the floor just because they came in as the class. But they’re really so humble and came in just wanting to win games and worked hard every day.
I was with them every day in the summer. And I’ve grown real close to these guys. Blood couldn’t make us any closer, all the things we went through this year.
As far as the freshmen, man, they’ve grown so much. We ask a lot of them and they never back down from a challenge, and it speaks about their character and what they stand for.
But Miles is going to be my best friend, man, and you know he’s my little brother, but I just appreciate everything he does and how hard he works and wants to be great. But he never backs down from a challenge, and I’m going to keep getting on him for the rest of his life because that’s one thing Coach has been pushing me to be better at is holding my best friend accountable.
So for our freshmen, it’s been a blessing thouto be around them and we’re going to continue to grow from this and always want to work hard.