Spartans Weather Red Storm Behind Bridges and Ward

In their first meeting since 1979, Michigan State defeated St. John’s 73-62 in their first game of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament played in the Bahamas. After a first half that saw the Spartans lead by only three after shooting 18 percent from three-point range, coach Tom Izzo wanted improvement.

“We live and die with the three, which this team does too much of,” Izzo told AXStv at halftime.

Freshman phenom Miles Bridges racked up a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds after 20 minutes of play, as he carried MSU over the Red Storm.

But the second half was highlighted by Tum Tum Nairn Jr., a native of the Bahamas. With the hometown crowd cheering him on in a Spartan uniform, Nairn Jr. totaled 11 points in the second half, including three three-pointers. He had a total of eight three’s in his career coming into the game, but caught fire from beyond the arc.

The half also had a large exclamation point, when Nairn Jr. went coast-to-coast and dropped the hammer on a St. John’s defender.

Nairn Jr. finished with a season high 13 points and four assists. Eron Harris, coming off his career performance against Florida Gulf Coast, added 14 points and seven rebounds and Miles Bridges ended up with a team-high 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Spartans.

It became apparent early on that St. John’s was going to attack the paint to expose MSU’s void at the big man spot. Nick Ward filled that void on Wednesday night, falling one point shy of a double-double with nine points and 11 rebounds. Although he only played 12 minutes, Ward’s impact was huge, as he went 4-of-7 from the field, and contributed to MSU out-rebounding the Red Storm by 21.

So, what’s next for the Spartans, you ask? No. 20 Baylor.

The Bears beat the VCU 71-63. Johnathan Motley had 19 points and 10 rebounds, with Manu Lecomte adding 16 points of his own.

Size will be the main obstacle to overcome for Michigan State. Jo Lucal-Acuil Jr. stands 7-foot while Motley stands 6-foot-10. With Ward having his coming out party of sorts for the Spartans, he could get the start over Kenny Goins, who fouled out and didn’t accumulate any points in 16 minutes of playing time.

The No. 24 Spartans will face Baylor on Thanksgiving Day, with the winner going onto the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game on Friday evening.