Izzo defense prevails in MSU’s home win over Minnesota

At 11:07 p.m. on Jan. 9, 2017, Michigan State forward Miles Bridges sent out a tweet. It read “Can we get stupid dumb on Wednesday?” with a GIF of the Izzone wearing the lime green shirts they were given against Maryland in 2016. It remains a mystery what “stupid dumb” is, but whatever it is, it lifted Bridges and the Spartans to a 65 to 47 win over #24 Minnesota – their first win over a ranked opponent this season.

Bridges, despite what his  tweet says, played competently. He led the team with 16 points and had six rebounds to go along with it.

“Miles and Tum (Nairn Jr.) are kind of our catalyst. And I thought that helped us, him (Bridges) getting off to a good start,” said head coach Tom Izzo. “In different ways too. He had a couple of inside shots, a couple threes, had a couple drive and passes. He’s starting to show the versatility.”

In the first half, Bridges didn’t seem to be phased by any man wearing maroon in front of him and was able to score as he pleased.

“I didn’t force anything today,” said Bridges who finished five for seven from the field. “We can’t have slow starts. We had slow starts the last few practices before that (PSU) game. But last practice we had we got off to a great start and Tum Tum told us we need to have that every time and it carried over into the game.”

But it was defense that propelled the Spartans to their fourth Big Ten win.

“Defense gets our transition going. And were best in transition,” said Bridges, whose mom texted Izzo last week that her son needed to play more aggressive.

Wearing old-school Michigan Agricultural College jerseys, MSU showed some old-school physical play that held Minnesota to an embarrassing 17 first half points.

“I thought our defense was as good as it’s been. It was kind of like old times,” Izzo said. “Defensively we played together, it was a cohesion.”

Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino credited MSU’s pride in playing physically.

“They just beat us up. Not in a fouling way, they just out-toughed us,” said Pitino who saw his team undergo a full on collapse. They couldn’t get to the free throw line, layups rimmed out, and they shot a dismal 19 percent from three-point range.

In terms of fouls, the two teams saw a rarity where neither reached the bonus in the first half. A breath of fresh air from the 50 foul game against Oakland a few weeks ago.

But unlike MSU’s jerseys, their tough play is far from prehistoric.

“Look at our defense look at our rebounding, they’re getting loose balls, that’s what grinding is. That isn’t old school that is winning school. You got to be able to grind and get physical,” Izzo said.

With Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid still not showing they can be prolific scorers each night and another freshman star in Nick Ward practically being a non-factor, it was another freshman that stepped up in the win.

Although not quite his coming out party, Joshua Langford scored 13 points and gave fans even more of a glimpse of what he can be. He drove confidently, made threes off the screen and had a few old school pull-up jumpers. His performance was overshadowed by Bridges, but it is not to be forgotten that Langford was also a McDonalds All-American that can do some damage.

“Josh has been practicing, he’s been better since Christmas. I think the biggest thing is you don’t see the limping or dragging of the foot. It’s been so hard for me to figure out these injuries and what it does to a kid,” Izzo said. But you see a more athletic guy (Langford) get to the hole, getting some rebounds… he ran the court, he came off ball screens, he’s got a great mid-range game and that was a big plus for us.”

And despite all that went right, Tom Izzo is still riding the highs and lows with this team knowing they still haven’t found that consistency.

“Don’t get blown away by a loss and don’t get over-excited about a win. But we did some things we can build on,” Izzo said.