Jackson Jr. embracing tough defensive assignments after another test against Bonzie Colson
Going into the game against Notre Dame a point of emphasis for men's basketball head coach Tom Izzo was to contain the Fighting Irish' best player, Bonzie Colson.
The 6-foot-6 Associated Press Preseason All-American is a load to deal with for defenders, and the numbers back it up. Colson was averaging 20 points on an extremely efficient 59 percent from the floor on the season heading into the match.
In his weekly press conference leading up to the game, head coach Tom Izzo talked about the challenge Colson presents for the team and for freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr. in particular. Izzo acknowledged how Colson's well-roundedness could create problems for the team, especially on the defensive end.
At a stocky 224-pounds Colson possesses the physical ability to excel in the paint - he made 180 trips to the foul line last season. But the versatility of the senior's game is illustrated by his shooting touch to go along with his inside scoring ability, as he shot 43 percent from three last season.
"Here's a 6-6 kid that just does a lot of things well and doesn't do anything beyond what he can do," Izzo said.
Despite playing only 14 minutes due to foul trouble, Jackson did a superb defensive job on Colson in the time that has was matched-up with the All-American. Colson was held to just 32 percent field goal shooting; the senior finished the game with 17 points on 19 shots.
"He's going to score, he's a good player; just try to force him into tough spots and hope some roll out. That's all you can do with a player like that," Jackson said after the game.
Undersized at the power forward position, Colson was still able to average a double-double coming in, with 10.5 rebounds per contest. The Irish forward's lack of size failed to aid him against Jackson during the game, as Colson finished with more than three times as many field goal attempts then he had makes.
MSU came out fast and were the early aggressors on both sides of the court. The Spartans' first half lead grew to as many as 22 at one point and the Irish were stuck on 11 points about midway through the half. Izzo credited Jackson's defense as the driving force behind the team's strong start.
"He really got us going, if you want the truth. His defense, the way he guarded him (Colson), the blocked shots," Izzo said. "Sounds crazy for a guy that played 12 or so minutes, but he was almost one of the stars of the game."
The heralded 6-foot-11 Indiana product totaled five points on two field goals in his limited action, but recorded three blocks on the night.
"I mean you think about it, I asked him to guard an All-American in his sixth or seventh college game," Izzo said.
The match-up with Colson was not the first time the freshman faced off against an elite-level player at his position. Through the first seven games of his collegiate career, Jackson has already been tasked with guarding North Carolina forward Luke Maye, who is averaging 20.1 points and 9.4 rebounds; and Duke's star freshman Marvin Bagley, who was named to the Karl Malone Award preseason watch list.
Jackson didn't get to see much of Bagley, as the Blue Devil forward exited their Nov. 14 meeting early with an eye injury. Maye was held to just eight points when UNC played the Spartans on Nov. 26, two days after he scored a season-high 28 against Arkansas.
Like he said in practice prior to the Notre Dame matchup, Jackson reiterated after the game that he welcomes these sorts of defensive challenges.
It's fun, it's a challenge. You know they're older, they will try tricks. It's just a learning process, all those matchups will help me down the road," Jackson said.
The win over the Irish gives the Spartans back-to-back wins over top-10 opponents.