Spartans squeeze by Scarlet Knights, win in overtime

EAST LANSING, Mich. — It took an extra five minutes to get the job done for No. 4 Michigan State against Rutgers on Wednesday night, but despite an anemic offensive performance for most of the night, MSU managed to pick up a home win in overtime, 76-72.

MSU shot just 41 percent from the field, but that number was deceived by a productive overtime, where the Spartans made a handful of key baskets when it counted.

“The best part of the night was when it ended,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said postgame. “I was not very happy with how we played [tonight].”

MSU missed their fair share of shots throughout the game, but Rutgers played well enough to remain competitive down the stretch. A Corey Sanders jumper with a minute remaining gave Rutgers the lead, and after a free throw from Miles Bridges tied the game, Sanders missed a would-be game-winner at the buzzer to send the game to overtime tied at 59.

In the extra period, Bridges kick-started the Spartans with a three-pointer, but Sanders answered with a layup. After Jackson and Sanders traded free throws, Rutgers took the lead on a Mike Williams layup with just over two minutes remaining. After Nick Ward hit a pair of free throws to make it a two-point game at the 1:30 mark of overtime, Sanders hit a runner over Kenny Goins’s outstretched arms.

On the ensuing possession, Joshua Langford hit a three from the right wing with a hand in his face to break the tie, and despite some late made shots from Rutgers, six Cassius Winston free throws clinched the game.

“Give them credit,” Izzo said postgame. “They played physical, they played with a chip on their shoulder. We had a 19-8 lead and then that’s when Josh got in trouble and Miles a little bit, we didn’t respond very well. Better teams than us have had tough games.”

A hot start from the Spartans led many to believe this home game would proceed similarly to their matchup with Maryland back on Jan. 4, but MSU’s offense started to sputter midway through the first half, and cold nights from Izzo’s stars turned a prospective blowout into a slog. While Nick Ward led MSU with 17 points, it was a largely frustrating night for MSU offensively. Bridges finished the night with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting, and despite contributing four assists, his struggles on offense seemed to stick with the rest of the team.

“They’re a tough team,” Ward said. “I wouldn’t say anything specifically, but they’re a tough team, they’re a big team. They play hard defense and they rebounded really well.”

Rutgers endured a slow shooting start and made their way back into the game late in the first half, and managed to stick with MSU from that point forward. RU’s leading scorer, forward Deshawn Freeman, struggled with foul trouble throughout the game and finished with 15 points, but Sanders stepped up in his place, leading the Scarlet Knights with 22 points.

The Breslin Center crowd had relatively little to cheer about in the first half until a Tum Tum Nairn three was immediately followed by a charge drawn by Goins, which seemed to inject a little life back into both team and crowd. However, each time it seemed as though the Spartans were about to bust the game open, MSU would miss their next couple shots and Rutgers would manage to do just enough to keep themselves in the game.

Bridges overcame a scoreless first half to turn in some effective play down the stretch. He scored four straight points to give MSU a four-point lead, and the lead was as high as seven with under four minutes remaining following a Joshua Langford layup. Despite playing with four fouls, Freeman hit a layup and a three-pointer to close the gap before hitting a pair of free throws to tie the game.

“I just tried to let the game come to me,” Bridges said of his play down the stretch. “We have to continue to get better, continue to get tougher because we have tougher games coming up.”

MSU now faces a high-profile rivalry game with Michigan on Saturday afternoon. The Wolverines are fresh off a one-point home loss to Purdue on Tuesday night, and are 14-4 on the year. Tipoff from East Lansing is scheduled for noon, and the game will be televised on FOX.