EAST LANSING, Mich. -- It didn’t work out exactly how Miles Bridges and Tom Izzo planned. Bridges was good enough Saturday afternoon to make it work anyway.
Bridges was supposed to drive to the hoop when Michigan State got the ball into its star player’s hands on the final possession of the No. 4 Spartans’ biggest game to date this season. The sophomore, who has at times this season been chided and criticized for not taking the type of control his talent should allow, decided he’d take his big moment however he could get it.
“I just took what he gave me,” Bridges said of the Purdue defender who faded away from him ever so slightly in the closing seconds of a neck-and-neck Big Ten fistfight Saturday. “I saw him back off, and that’s when I took the 3.”
Bridges’ deep 3 with 3 seconds to play was good. Michigan State beat No. 3 Purdue 68-65 to keep its league championship chances afloat and allow a jam-packed Breslin Center to perhaps hope for a little more. Sophomore guard Cassius Winston said the final shot felt like a slow-motion scene from a movie. Bridges said it was the kind of moment that brought him back to East Lansing for a second season when he could have waltzed off to the NBA following an impressive freshman showing.
Izzo asked Bridges earlier this season to be “more of a jerk”: to demand the ball and take over big moments. His encore hasn’t been exactly as dominant or as smooth as some might have imagined. But by obliging in the dramatic finale of one of the Big Ten’s most entertaining and consequential games this season, Bridges provided a reason to think Michigan State (24-3, 12-2 Big Ten) could have the right makeup for a run at the real reason its star put his NBA career on hold: winning a championship.
“He wanted the ball, and I wanted to give it to him,” Izzo said.
Bridges scored 20 points, hitting 9 of 14 shots, most of which came from midrange or deeper. Maybe more important, he hustled around screens and played tireless defense against one of the country’s most dangerous shooting teams. Purdue (23-4, 12-2) didn’t hit a single 3-pointer in the second half. Veteran sharpshooters Vincent Edwards and Dakota Mathias combined for five points after intermission as the Spartans chipped away at a deficit that grew to eight points early in the second half.
Four days earlier, Purdue led by as many as 14 in the second half at home against No. 14 Ohio State. The Boilermakers stalled out on offense, allowing runs of nine and six points before a last-second layup gave Ohio State its biggest victory of the season.
That game puts Ohio State (22-5, 13-1 after beating Iowa on Saturday) in control of its own future in the Big Ten regular-season race. The Buckeyes can claim a title in their first season under Chris Holtmann by winning out. Michigan State and Purdue will need help to catch them. The Boilermakers saw a 19-game win streak snapped and lost their stranglehold on the league thanks to a pair of heartbreaking defeats this week. The second time around, though, coach Matt Painter said they wouldn’t be blaming themselves.
“Tonight we had some mistakes, but we [only] turned the ball over three times,” Painter said. “We didn’t beat ourselves. Miles Bridges made a hell of a play.”
If Bridges can continue making big plays, Michigan State has the potential to beat the best teams in college basketball. Izzo believes the Purdue team the Spartans beat Saturday is a Final Four-caliber group. He thinks his Michigan State team has yet to really hit its ceiling. Expectations are still sky-high in East Lansing.
Before Bridges decided to freelance on his final shot, things did more or less go according to plan for the Spartans. The idea was to eliminate Purdue’s shooters at the expense of letting the Spartans' big men battle 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas on their own. Haas had 25 points but took 22 shots to get there and wasn’t able to get his last one to fall.
That miss with 20 seconds remaining meant the score remained tied for Michigan State’s final possession. Bridges didn’t need any more than a foul shot to propel his team to a victory. Instead of trying to get himself to the line, he decided to trust his instincts and do something other than what was expected.
For a day at least, it worked out. He didn’t think much about what would happen if it didn’t.
“Oh yeah, Coach would have been mad,” he said. “But chances make champions. That’s what I always say.”