#4/5 Michigan State Takes Down Bucknell 82-78

Little Caesars Arena

Detroit, MI

The #4/5 Michigan State Spartans fulfilled their Hall of Fame head coach’s March mantra tonight by, “Winning and advancing“ with an 82-78 win over the Bucknell Bison.  With the win, the Spartans not only move in the NCAA tournament, but they also improve their record to 30-4 on the season.

While the score at the end was four points, it wasn’t really that close.  Spartan Nation had written in our pre-game scouting report and prediction that Michigan State’s depth would be key and Izzo road an 11 man rotation to the win.  Xavier Tillman is emerging as an undervalued star and Ben Carter also had impressive minutes and play.

I asked Bucknell head coach Nathan Davis about overcoming that Spartan depth and he summed it up, “I think the biggest advantage it is, and we typically do that, too, is that you have a lot of — you have a lot of guys you end up having confidence in, and a lot of guys on the floor that the other guys are confident in because you’ve seen them do it before. There’s some nights some guys are playing a little better than others, gives you a little more flexibility to get through those nights.  And then obviously with foul trouble. I mean, games are officiated differently and fouls are called differently. And if you have more guys available, if there’s fouls, it allows you to sit some guys longer, especially in the first half, where you don’t pick up a third or a cheap second one late. So there’s certainly major advantages to it.”

Tom Izzo said of the contest that, “We said going in, you know, D.J. and I talked about, we kind of talked about our substitution pattern and we said we were going to put X in there early. We said we were going to get Ben in there. Kind of unfair to Ben because he hasn’t played much, and yet he’s been doing such an unbelievable job in practice, especially against zones and that. Our offense works better through him. We wanted to get his feet wet.  Like I said, I was really pleased. It shouldn’t have been a 4-point game. And taking nothing away from them. But I thought we played very well for most of that game. They’re a good team. I mean, I saw some of the 3 and 2 and 4 seeds, or 15, 14 and 13 seeds, and I swear to God, when I first watched them on film I said, you know, this is Middle Tennessee-plus. And I just — I think what we didn’t do, and I did tell Cassius and Miles this, when we made a mistake, we let it carry over to two and three and even four a couple times. And I told Nick that.  And so we’re still growing. I mean, we’re still trying to get better. But we really took a big step, because it was a physical game. I can’t believe Josh Langford got a technical. He hasn’t said a word since he’s been on campus. There were some questions I had on some things. But I thought in general, considering we’re playing without Jaren Jackson, who, when he was in there, was awfully effective for the, I don’t know, five minutes he was in there.  And so I think this team still has a ways to go. I think we found out what we said, that a tough player makes a difference. And Xavier was just tougher than everybody. And Miles is right. I did get on Miles. I got on him at halftime. But, boy, we started running some stuff from him and he started answering the bell, one after the other, and the tip dunk kind of typified it. And so I think we’re making some progress. We took a step forward. There’s no question about that.”

Miles Bridges had 29 points and nine rebounds for the Spartans.  Joshua Langford recovered from his eight-game skid to drop in 22 points and Cassius Winston rounded out the Spartans in double digits by garner 11.

Davis praised Bridges who took the game over in the second half.  He said, “He was pretty impressive on film. 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.”

On the night the Spartans had a disappointing 10 turnovers but owned the boards with a 40-28 advantage.  The Spartans shot 53% from the field while holding Bucknell to just 42%. Michigan State had 32-18 advantage with points in the paint and had 21 assists on 31 baskets.

Langford said, “It felt good hitting that first shot. But I think the biggest thing I was trying to focus on was just trying to help my team win, and that was on the defensive end, not just on the offensive end. And my team did an unbelievable job finding me.”

Cassius Winston praised his fellow sophomore wingman by adding, “When Josh hitting shot my assists they skyrocket up a lot. He was due for this type of game. The amount of time he puts in the gym, his shot is going to fall. We knew it was coming.”

Davis was honest and succinct when I asked him just how good this Spartan team is.  He said, “Usually I enjoy watching Michigan State play but this week it wasn’t a whole lot of fun. They are, in the time I’ve been — I think I’ve been in Division I on some level for probably 16 years — they’re as good as anyone I’ve seen.  I think that obviously when you have guys like Bridges and Jackson, who are going to be lottery picks, I think the pieces fit well together. They have balance in that they can throw it inside. They can score from the perimeter.  The first half we were actually kind of forcing them to take the shots we wanted them to take and they were making those, too, with Langford with those pull-ups.  They rebound it well and then they’re long and can defend. You watch them, they don’t have a lot of weaknesses. They’re as good as I’ve played against in a long time.”

While proud of his Bison Davis said of the green monster known as the Spartans, “I’d be okay never having to play that team again.”

The Spartans return to action on Sunday taking on Syracuse.  That game tips at 2:40 ET from right back here at the LCA.

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