Bridges returns, helps Michigan State beat Rutgers 93-65
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By LARRY LAGE
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Miles Bridges soared from the right side of the lane, grabbed a lob pass with two hands and slammed the basketball on his first possession in more than a month. Michigan State's standout freshman later blocked a shot and sprinted to the other end of the court, leaping for a one-handed dunk off another tossed pass.
Bridges finished with six points and six rebounds in a 17-minute return from an ankle injury and Eron Harris scored 24 points, helping the Spartans beat Rutgers 93-65 Wednesday night.
"It felt great to be out there," Bridges said.
Michigan State's leading scorer and rebounder played for the first time a loss Nov. 29 at Duke, missing seven games with a sprained ankle.
"The trainers and my teammates helped me through the process," Bridges said. "They're easing me back in there."
Bridges was welcomed by cheers when he checked in at the 15:56 mark of the first half and made the crowd roar with his alley-oop dunk off a lob from Matt McQuaid, finishing a play that coach Tom Izzo called during the timeout.
"I thought it might be good for our players, it might good for fans, it might be good for us, and it definitely might be good for him," Izzo said. "We set it up and we didn't know if it would work. It did. It was a great pass. And, I thought that took the weight of the world off his shoulders."
Nick Ward had 15 points and McQuaid scored 12 for the Spartans (11-5, 3-0 Big Ten) to help them with their fourth straight game. Each of the Spartans who had more than 2 minutes of playing time scored and combined to make 58 percent of their shots.
"I actually thought we defended them until I looked at the numbers," Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said.
RUTGERS' BRIEF RUN
The Scarlet Knights (11-5, 3-0) started strong, scoring the first six points of the game, before being overmatched as they often have in Big Ten play. Rutgers' Corey Sanders scored a season-high 22, Nigel Johnson had 15 points and C.J. Gettys added 10. The Scarlet Knights made just 12 of 27 free throws.
"I wanted to substitute and kind of slow the pace down," Pikiell said. "Our game plan going in was to chop this thing up and have that horn blowing. We left so many free throws on the table and some timely turnovers down the stretch. They're relentless in their transition game and eventually they got us a few times."
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have not won a Big Ten road game in two-plus years in the conference and will likely have to pull off a stunner to change that this season. Rutgers has only one Big Ten victory, in last year's regular season finale, since upsetting No. 4 Wisconsin on Jan. 11, 2015.
Izzo insisted he has the Scarlet Knights improve since last year.
"They're more discipline," he said. "They're more structured. And, they're big."
Michigan State: The Spartans need Harris and fellow shooting guard McQuaid to shoot as they did against Rutgers. Bridges will create space on the floor, but it is up to Harris and McQuaid to take advantage of it by making open shots. Harris was 5 of 8 on 3-pointers and McQuaid was 2 of 3 beyond the arc.
"It was nice to get Eron Harris going a little bit, and McQuaid going a bit," Izzo said.
Harris scored as many points against Rutgers as he had in the previous three games combined.
"He's been consistently inconsistent," Izzo said.
The senior scored a season-high 31 against Florida Gulf Coast in November, but scored just three points two games later in a loss to Baylor and he scored only two points early in the season against Kentucky.
"I have to do my job if this team is going to win," Harris acknowledged.
Rutgers plays Sunday at Iowa.
Michigan State plays Saturday against Penn State in Philadelphia at the famed Palestra.
"It's going to be thrilling for me," Izzo said. "It's one of the meccas of college basketball."
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Updated January 4, 2017