After 20-point defeat, MSU men's basketball looks to next season
TULSA, Okla. – As the final buzzer sounded, MSU’s season was ended by the hands of No. 1 Kansas.
A hard fought game by both sides, MSU failed to string a run to crawl past the Jayhawks. The final score was 90-70.
Freshman forward Miles Bridges did what he could, however he was without much help in the latter 10 minutes of the second half because freshman forward Nick Ward was in foul trouble. With more than eight minutes left in the second half, Ward picked up his fourth foul and had to sit.
From there Bridges attempted to carry the team, but the load was too heavy.
In the final five minutes, the Spartans were exhausted from dealing with the speed of Kansas and couldn’t make up the increasing score differential.
At the two minute mark, Kansas’ Josh Jackson drove down the center of the lane, throwing down a dagger dunk, putting the Jayhawks up 15 points. Frank Mason III added a layup and Devonte’ Graham hit a corner 3-pointer to put Kansas on a 7-0 run and ahead by 20 points.
The Spartans end the season with a final record of 20-15.
The Spartans will lose three players to graduation in the offseason: Alvin Ellis III, Matt Van Dyk and Eron Harris.
Harris will leave a decent-sized hole to fill for MSU. In just two seasons as a Spartan, Harris scored 616 points in 63 games. His college career ended on the floor of Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. when he drove baseline, colliding with Purdue’s Isaac Haas, and landed awkwardly on his right leg. His knee would severely buckle and the injured Harris was stretchered off the floor.
Izzo was able to give Harris one last shinning movement on Senior Night against then-No. 16 Wisconsin. With the final seconds ticking down and the Spartans leading 84-74, Harris took off his warm-ups and slowly shuffled to the scorer’s table to check-in.
He was welcomed onto the court by a standing ovation, and without any teammate assistance, he leaned down at halfcourt to complete the Spartan tradition – a kiss upon the spartan helmet logo.
In Harris’ entire college basketball year, including the two season at West Virginia, he scored 1,489 points. He is expected to graduate with a degree in sociology.
Ellis shot his final arrow for MSU having played in 132 games. During his time wearing the green and white, Ellis scored 414 points, most of which occurred in his senior season. Ellis scored 205 points in his final season and 209 points in his first three seasons combined.
Ellis filled in as a starter when Harris was injured. Ellis is expected to graduated with a degree in sociology.
“All the small things that we went through, all of the adversity, all the fighting and all the grinding it out with teammates,” Ellis said after hugging former MSU forward Draymond Green. “From just all the trips that we took overseas and the Bahamas and things like that, just all the little things that we’ve been through together.”
The final senior is Van Dyk. The redshirt senior from Imlay City, Mich. earned his spot on the roster by walking onto the team before the 2014 season. His hustle and hard work earned him a scholarship from the team before this season.
Van Dyk played at St. Clair County Community College before transferring to MSU for academic purposes.
He appeared in 49 games and scored 61 points for MSU and is a two-time recipient of the Tim Bograkos Walk-On Award. He is expected to return home and help run the family lettuce farm after graduation. His degree is in agribusiness management.
“Just the family here,” Van Dyk said holding back tears about his favorite MSU memory. “It really is just a big family, everybody loves each other, everybody is working for each other.”
Uncertainty of Miles Bridges
Bridges will be the next focal point for MSU fans while they await his decision on either to return for his sophomore season, or leave college and pursue a career in the NBA.
In just one season at MSU, Bridges left an impressive mark in terms of production.
If he decides to leave MSU, Bridges will finish his college career with 402 points and 199 rebounds. In 24 games, he averaged 16.7 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game. Both of those statistics were team highs this season. Bridges missed seven games earlier in the season because of a foot injury.
In what could be his final game in green and white, Bridges scored 22 points with eight rebounds. He left early in the first half with an abdomen injury and returned minutes later still catering to his right hip.
His explosive dunks, extended shooting range and all-around talent helped him win the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Bridges scored in double-figures 25 times this season.
Just one year ago, Bridges entered MSU as a five-star recruit from Flint, Mich. He played his last years of high school basketball at Huntington Prep in West Virginia.
Bridges did not say whether he was leaving MSU after their loss against Kansas. When he will make a decision is unknown.
“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,” Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. said. “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.”
An update about his choice to leave or not is expected as early as this week and Izzo said he would encourage Bridges either way, noting the demeanor of Bridges reminded him of Gary Harris who decided to stay another year.
Currently MSU has two highly acclaimed signed recruits, Jaren Jackson and Xavier Tillman.
Jackson plays high school basketball at La Lumiere School in La Porte, Ind. In his junior year of high school at Park Tudor High School in Indianapolis, Ind. Jackson averaged 16.1 points per game, 7.8 rebounds and 4.4 blocks.
He is listed as 6-foot-11, 225 pounds and is a five-star recruit. He will play in the McDonald’s All-American game, the same game Bridges and guard Joshua Langford appeared in last year.
Jackson is listed as the No. 16 best incoming basketball recruit and No. 3 best power forward according to ESPN’s Top 100.
Jackson received 18 total scholarship offers from notable universities such as: U-M, Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, Butler, Georgetown, Maryland, Purdue and Notre Dame.
Tillman is listed as a power forward as well and is 6-foot-9, 250 pounds. He currently plays for Grand Rapids Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Mich.
He is a four-star recruit with 10 scholarship offers, mainly from Big Ten schools. Outside of MSU, other Big Ten schools that wanted Tillman include: Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, U-M, Iowa and Ohio State. Teams outside of the Big Ten included: Virginia Tech, TCU and Kentucky.
Unless either player decides to decommit and attend another university, the Spartans could have a potential starting line-up including: Cassius Winston, Langford, Bridges, Ward and Jackson. More likely Nairn and potentially Gavin Schilling will start.
MSU is currently in the race for a third highly acclaimed recruit, Brian “Tugs” Bowen.
He currently plays alongside Jackson for La Lumiere School and is originally from Saginaw, Mich. The same city that produced players like Green and former guard Jason Richardson.
Bowen is listed at 6-foot-7, 190 pounds. He is the No. 12 incoming recruit, according to the ESPN Top 100 and is the No. 3 small forward.
The five-star recruit has drawn heavy interest from Arizona and MSU as well as five additional schools. Those other schools include: DePaul, Texas, Creighton, N.C. State and UCLA.
Next year projections
The long list of injuries combined with the youth issues for MSU this season could have a very different look next season.
If Schilling and Ben Carter return healthy, which has been a major problem especially for Carter, then MSU will have an abundance of height.
Because of injuries this season, Ward stands tallest for MSU at 6-foot-8. This has hurt the ability for MSU to guard the paint and against teams like Purdue, it has squashed the ability to defend the low post. The height of the Boilermakers with 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 6-foot-9 Caleb Swanigan was too much to handle for the Spartans. They lost by double digits in both games this season.
However, next season MSU would have a front court of 6-foot-9 Schilling, Carter and Tillman. They will also have 6-foot-8 Ward, 6-foot-11 Jackson and 6-foot-6 Kenny Goins.
This will drastically help improve the Spartans’ ability to rebound the basketball, a main staple for Izzo coached teams. This season MSU is ranked 123 in the nation in rebounding. Just two seasons ago, the Spartans led the country in rebounding margin.
Their guards will remain the same, with Nairn and Winston in charge of the offense.
Langford will continue his role alongside the two guards and Matt McQuaid will most likely gain a bigger role with the departure of Ellis and Harris.
The experience for MSU will improve as each freshman will have a full season under their belt. Nairn will be the outspoken leader as a senior and Schilling will help lead the big men.
For the most part, this team will remain relatively young.
In terms of pure talent, next season’s MSU team will be loaded with playmaking and rebounding ability. If Bridges stays, the talent and ability for MSU increases, but if he decides to leave, they will still be threatening to the Big Ten and the nation.
“Man, this whole year has been a blessing for me, man,” Nairn said following the loss. “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.”