No. 3 Michigan State survives slugfest with Rutgers
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Although his Michigan State teams had scored at least 90 points in in its previous three meetings with Rutgers, coach Tom Izzo was concerned about facing the Scarlet Knights on Tuesday.
It turns out Izzo had just cause. The No. 3 Spartans started off slow before prevailing 62-52 at the Rutgers Athletic Center, getting 21 points from Miles Bridges.
“It was not a surprise to me for a couple of good reasons,” Izzo said. “I was concerned about us being sluggish. I was concerned about Rutgers.
“I thought in general we played sluggish in the beginning. So we found a way to win, I guess that’s what good teams do. That was a fistfight and personally I love it.”
The Spartans (8-1, 2-0 Big Ten) defense bailed them out. They came in having the nation’s top field-goal defensive percentage and wound up limiting Rutgers (6-2, 0-2) to just 25.8 percent (17 of 66).
The Spartans blocked a season-best 13 shots, eight from Jaren Jackson, who also scored 11 points.
“The blocked shot for them (Michigan State) is the first pass in their fast break,” said Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell. “They’re a transition team so when we got our shots blocked it certainly put us in a lot of defensive pressure down the other end of the floor. That kind of catapulted them at times.”
Michigan State had won its previous six games by 18 or more points, but only led by double digits against Rutgers late in the game. Joshua Langford added 15 points and three assists for the Spartans.
“Love the way his (Pikiell’s) kids play,” Izzo said. “They play hard. This was good for us. It didn’t feel good on the bench. We were very average early on. It was a good learning experience for us. We’ll get better.”
Deshawn Freeman led Rutgers with 13 points and nine rebounds. Geo Baker and Eugene Omoruyi added 11 points each.
Both teams were playing their second game in three days. Rutgers dropped an 89-67 decision at No. 14 Minnesota on Sunday, while the Spartans defeated Nebraska, 86-57.
Rutgers went 1 for 9 from the field during a span in which the Spartans opened up a 58-50 cushion.
“I think we played the best team in the country,” said Pikiell. “It came down to a few possessions. Got to give it to Michigan State. Watched all the film. They’re good.”
A Cassius Winston 3-pointer and a free throw from Jackson gave Michigan State its largest lead to that point, 53-45. Winston and fellow starter Nick Ward combined for just 27 minutes.
“They (Winston and Ward) started off slow,” said Izzo. “We were hoping they would respond, but they didn’t.”
Corey Sanders nailed a 3-pointer to bring the Scarlet Knights to within 45-43 with 8:14 to go, but Rutgers went the next 4:33 without scoring. Jackson scored four points in that time to move the Spartans’ lead to 49-43 with 4:28 remaining.
An 8-0 burst had enabled the Spartans to take a 42-35 lead with 10:44 left.
Mike Williams ended a three-minute scoring drought for Rutgers with a 3-pointer to pull the Scarlet Knights to within 34-33 with 14:12 left before Omoruyi’s layup put Rutgers ahead 35-34 for the last time.
Bridges was 5 of 7 from the floor in the first half, burying 3 of his 5 3-pointers.
A traditional three-point play from Langford gave the Spartans a brief 26-25 lead before Williams tied it at 26-26 with a free throw with seven seconds left. It was the fewest points Michigan State scored in the first half this season.
A basket by Freeman tied it for Rutgers at 23-23, then a pull-up jumper from Baker with 1:25 left in the half put the Scarlet Knights back in front 25-23.
The Spartans grabbed their first lead, 15-14, on a jumper from Bridges at the 8:33 mark. On the next two possessions, he drilled two 3-pointers for a 21-14 edge, capping an 11-0 run over 3:09.
Rutgers started off on an 8-0 run, with the Spartans missing their first four shots and committing two turnovers. After a timeout, Izzo pulled four of his starters, including Bridges.
NOTES: Rutgers plays its next six games at home. ... The Scarlet Knights and Michigan State combine to lead or place second in the Big Ten in 19 statistical categories. ... Rutgers is in the midst of playing four of seven games against opponents ranked or receiving votes. ... Michigan State had defeated Rutgers by an average margin of 28.5 points in the previous four conference games.