Michigan State (4-3) capped off its trip to the Bahamas with a 77-72 victory over Wichita State (5-2) on Friday to finish third in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. But the win wasn’t without drama.
Nick Ward’s layup with 11:53 left in the game gave the No. 24 ranked Spartans a commanding 18-point lead. But the scrappy Shockers clamped down on defense and wreaked havoc on the MSU offense. WSU went on a furious 14-0 run a few minutes later to slash the Spartan lead to just one with 4:13 left. MSU gave up eight turnovers in the last 11 minutes of the game, giving the Shockers easy opportunities to come back.
The freshmen came up big down the stretch for Michigan State. Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston each hit clutch threes in the last few minutes of the game to extend the Spartan lead to seven. Winston went to the line with 24 seconds left and Michigan State up by two and split his free throws, giving WSU a chance to tie the game and possibly go to overtime. The Shockers heaved up an ugly three that didn’t go, effectively sealing the win for MSU.
Bridges led all scorers with 21 points and added four rebounds, despite sitting out much of the first half with foul trouble. Matt McQuaid knocked down three threes en route to 13 points. Senior Eron Harris recovered nicely from his atrocious 1-9 shooting performance against Baylor with 13 points and four rebounds. Bahamas native Tum Tum Nairn dished out 12 assists in his last game back home.
Though third place wasn’t the outcome MSU had in mind, the Spartans were still able to pick up a quality win against a Shockers team that will be contenders in the Missouri Valley Conference this season.
However, MSU’s lack of size was once again a glaring problem. 6-9 power forward Darral Willis Jr. put up 16 points and six rebounds over the outsized Spartans. Wichita State out-rebounded MSU by one, but dominated the offensive glass. In the three games MSU played in the Battle 4 Atlantis, teams out-rebounded MSU on the offensive boards 32-23. Kenny Goins, a player Coach Izzo is counting on in the post this season, only managed to grab one rebound against Wichita State.
Michigan State hasn’t started a season 4-3 or worse since 2003-04, when they went 5-6 in the non-conference season. That Spartan squad played five ranked teams before getting into conference play, losing all five games.
Is the brutal schedule and travel over for the Spartans yet? Nope. They still have to face off with Coach K and the No. 6 Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. The success of Michigan State will largely depend on if they can shore up their offensive rebounding. If they can’t, it could get ugly.