DETROIT — On Friday evening at the still very new Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit, the No. 3-seeded Michigan State men’s basketball team played the No. 14-seeded Bucknell Bison. In front of what felt and sounded like a Breslin Center crowd, the Spartans defeated the Bison, 82-78.
MSU came in as favorites, not just to win the game, but the tourney as a whole. MSU was picked by countless analysts and writers to win, even former president Barack Obama chose them as national champions.
The Spartans flexed their muscles and showed just why they were favorites early on in the game, getting out to a 10-4 lead off the play of forward Nick Ward who began 3-of-4 from the field with six points. The Bison tried to guard Ward one on one, but he was able to get position down low and go straight to his patented left-handed jump hook. Following his third shot, the Bisons switched to a double team which slowed the Spartan big down, as he immediately missed his next four shots. Ward finished with just eight points on the night.
However, guard Joshua Langford was able to pick up the slack, connecting on mid range jumpers from all over the court. After reaching double figures just once in the last seven games, Langford erupted to finish with 15 points in the half, going 7-of-8 from the field. The Spartan guard connected on a big three pointer from the corner that stretched the lead to 11 points, 23-12 at the ten minute mark in the first.
The shot seemed to give the Spartans the momentum, but the Bisons, or more specifically forward Zach Thomas, had something else in mind. Just as Bucknell had no answer for Langford, Michigan State had no answer for Thomas. Thomas erupted for 20 points in the half, finishing 6-of-11 from the field and 3-3 from 3-point land. Following his lead, Bucknell went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to just four points.
From there the game continued to go back and forth as Thomas and Langford filled it up for their respective teams. Star forward Miles Bridges was able to find his shot late, his 10 first-half points helped the Spartans end the half leading by four, 44-40.
To start the second half, MSU went out on a 6-0 run that gave them a nine-point lead, 52-43. The freshman Jaren Jackson Jr.–who some have called the X-factor for this MSU team–scored 4 points early getting a layup and a dunk to start the half. The Spartans defense absolutely swarmed the Bisons, who after getting a layup to start didn’t connect from the field again until the 8 minute mark in the second half.
Although the Bison were in a scoring drought, the Spartans didn’t truly capitalize until a Bridges putback slam over Nana Foulland late in the second. The putback also pumped up Bridges who finished with a game-high 29 points. From there, MSU took their largest lead of the night at 14, 64-50.
Bucknell did their best to come back in the game, going on an 8-0 run in the final minute of the game that cut the lead to eight points, but the Spartans were able to hold on for the win.
With the win, the Spartans will move on to the round of 32, where they will play the winner of No. 6 and 11 seed game between Texas Christian and Syracuse.