Hoops notes: Bridges answering Izzo's challenge to be a 'jerk'
After the men’s basketball team narrowly escaped Rutgers in overtime back in early January, head coach Tom Izzo challenged his leading man, sophomore guard Miles Bridges to be more of a “jerk” and develop more of a selfish approach on the offensive end.
In the game against the Scarlet Knights the sophomore scored just 11 points, which remains his second lowest point total in a game this season.
While Izzo has often praised Bridges’ improved all-around play throughout this season, the tenured coach didn’t hold back in voiced his frustration with his star player’s excessive selflessness.
“He’s going to give me something, I’m sure, and i’m going to teach him how to be a little more of a jerk,” Izzo said after MSU was able to hold off Rutgers back on Jan. 10.
Since then Bridges has more than answered his coaches’ challenge.
Friday’s, 76-61, win over Wisconsin was the fourth straight game in which Bridges scored at least 19 points, while taking no fewer than 14 shots and making at least half of his overall field goal attempts.
The Flint, Michigan native followed up his hyper efficient 31-point outing against Illinois on Monday - in which he didn’t miss a shot the entire first half - by going 8-of-13 from the floor for a game-high 24 points in the Spartans’ win against the Badgers.
“He’s making all of his shots in rhythm and he looks a lot more aggressive, that’s how we need him to continue to play for us,” senior point guard Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn said after the team’s win on Friday.
Bridges’ slashing ability has been well-documented, but the 6-foot-7 guard has been displaying efficiency in other areas of his offensive game as of late. In the last two games, Bridges has shot 50 percent or better from behind the 3-point line and has gone perfect from the free-throw line.
‘He’s a lot more aggressive you know, getting to the basket, getting to the free-throw line, you know getting in that midrange area where he is effective,” sophomore guard Cassius Winston said.
Despite increasing his scoring average and overall shooting percentage from his freshman campaign, Bridges dealt with his fair share of struggles early in the season. During a five-game stretch between a Nov. 30 matchup with Notre Dame, and a Dec. 16 matchup against Oakland, Bridges went a combined 27-of-70.
Winston indicated after the game that early injuries could have played a factor in Bridges’ inconsistent play to start the season, and that a recent clean bill of health, along with a boost of confidence, is driving the Preseason BIG Ten Player of the Year’s strong play.
Bridges suffered from an ankle injury early this season that kept him sidelined for the team’s opening game of the PK80 invitational against DePaul back on Nov. 23.
“A lot plays into it, he got off of a couple of injuries so he had to get his groove back,” Winston said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, playing with a lot of energy and that’s helping him a lot.”
Turnovers the achilles heel: MSU committed just 13 turnovers in Friday’s win against the Badgers, four days after coughing up the ball a season-high 25 times in the team’s, 87-74, win over Illinois.
Turnovers have been a consistent area of concern for the Spartans as they rank 303rd in the country in that category, having committed 316 giveaways on the season.
“We know if we want to continue to be a better team each and every game we gotta take care of the ball,” Nairn said. "Especially in this league, you know, teams are going to capitalize. So we've got to do a better job taking care of the ball.
Winston labeled turnovers as the teams’ "achilles heel", and said sometimes the turnovers are a result of poor decision-making.
“Sometimes it’s our screening, sometimes we just don’t make good decisions with the basketball,” Winston said. “If we just cut down on the dumb turnovers then we’ll be alright. Sometimes you’re just going to turn the ball over that’s the game of basketball, but if you cut down on the dumb turnovers then you’ll be better.”
Blocks record for freshman: Freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr. set the program’s single-season blocks record 75, after recording four blocks against the Badgers.
Jackson Jr. came into the game with 71 blocks in his first season with the Spartans and needed just one rejection to tie the previous single-season record set by Ken Johnson in 1985.