Bridges returns from injury, serves as catalyst in blowout win over Rutgers
A missed jump shot from Rutgers forward Issa Thiam with 8:25 left in regulation was followed by a block and defensive rebound from freshman forward Miles Bridges, back in a game for the first time since Nov. 29 when he sustained a foot injury against then-No. 5 Duke.
Already on the fast break, Bridges rushed down the court side-by-side with freshman guard Cassius Winston, who had the ball in hand. Winston lobbed the ball perfectly into the right palm of Bridges, who brought down a thunderous tomahawk dunk over the Rutgers defender, extending the MSU men's basketball team's lead to 14 points.
Oh my, Miles Bridges!https://t.co/jqd5OHoyMj— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 5, 2017
“Well, it’s a play we run, and yet I just felt like he was so good all week, and he said, ‘So, you know, coach, whatever minutes you want me to play,’” head coach Tom Izzo said in his postgame press conference. “I’m not worried about his scoring average, I’m not worried about this or that. And I just thought it might be good for our players, it might be good for our fans, it might be good for us, and it definitely might be good for him. So, you know, we set it up, we didn’t know if it would work, and it did. It was a great pass. I don’t know, I think that took the weight of the world off his shoulders too, a little bit.”
Bridges’ dunk was a glimpse of the Bridges of old, who had missed the last seven games and was sidelined in a walking boot. The forward finished his return with six points and six rebounds in 17 minutes of play off the bench as MSU routed Rutgers 93-65 to improve to 11-5 overall and 3-0 in Big Ten play. In his limited return, Bridges found a new role in his meager time on the court, having previously led the team with an average of 32.5 minutes, 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Even with the precautionary cap on playing time, Bridges gave the Spartans a spark to pull away with a 28-point victory. His presence on the floor catalyzed the offense to shoot 57.9 percent from the floor and 11-for-22 from 3-point range, a season-high 72.7 percent from the free-throw line and baskets from 11 different Spartans.
Fifth-year senior Eron Harris finished with a game-high 24 points and sophomore guard Matt McQuaid ended with 12 points. Bridges gave MSU much-needed depth at the forward position with all of the team's forwards combining for nine of the team's 10 blocks, including four from freshman forward Nick Ward. McQuaid said the Spartans learned to play well without Bridges, and with his return, the team will only get better.
“The last few weeks we’ve kind of came together, and we really pulled together without him, and now just adding onto the puzzle another piece,” McQuaid said. “He makes us better. I think we did a good job without him and he’s really going to help us now.”
McQuaid also noted the presence of Bridges sets up a number of opportunities on both sides of the court because of his versatility.
“He brought a special kind of energy,” McQuaid said. “With those dunks, the plays on defense, he was rebounding, you know he brings a lot to the table. Just like on the offensive end, even when he is just standing on the ball he’s still drawing defense because they have to pay attention to him. He’s always effective on the court.”
Since the game at Duke, Bridges has seen his team perform without him, and it gave him an idea of where the team has grown in the last month, citing improved play up and down the roster.
“The guards and the bigs got their confidence up since I’ve been back so it’s easier playing out there,” Bridges said. “If I pass the ball to Eron (Harris) knowing he’s going to hit the shot I have confidence, and Matt McQuaid too that he can make the shot. Nick Ward has been rolling, we feed him the ball in the post and it’s one-on-one and it’s basically a bucket.”
With Bridges getting back into the rotation, Izzo was confident playing time won’t affect the team’s chemistry heading into the rest of Big Ten play.
“My assistant, Dwayne Stephens, said ‘Hey coach, those guys are so excited to have him back, nobody is worried about who goes in or what goes in,’ and I guess that’s the beauty of Miles Bridges,” Izzo said.
Bridges and the Spartans will only be able to relish in the blowout win against Rutgers momentarily. Izzo said after the game he will be correcting the team’s errors made in the first half against the Scarlet Knights. The Spartans will then turn around to play Penn State on Saturday in front of a sold out crowd at The Palestra in Philadelphia, Pa.
“I told my team tonight, I said, tomorrow morning at 9:30 I want to know why we started out like we did, and why we didn’t bring the energy we usually do and why the casualness?” Izzo said. “Because I thought the last three games we played we had more of a sense of urgency. And then why did certain guys play better?”
Tipoff against the Nittany Lions is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Jan. 7 and the game will be televised on ESPN.