Immediately after beating third-ranked Purdue with the biggest shot of his college career on Saturday afternoon, Miles Bridges back-pedaled down court at the Breslin Center with his chest puffed out and a smile stretched across his face.
This was the sort of moment that the Michigan State star returned to school to deliver.
With the score tied and just a few ticks left on the clock, Bridges received the ball at the top of the key and the rest of his teammates cleared out to allow him to attack Purdue’s Dakota Mathias. Instead of trying to beat Mathias off the bounce, Bridges pulled up from a step or two behind the arc and buried a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds remaining to propel Michigan State to a 68-65 victory.
With ❄️ in his veins…
Miles Bridges CALLED GAME.pic.twitter.com/3oisrSWwkX
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) February 10, 2018
Bridges finished the game with 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting, most of which came as Michigan State was battling back from a 10-point first-half deficit. While Bridges has scored more points in previous games, this will probably go down as the seminal performance of his career thus far given the significance of the matchup.
Had Michigan State lost to Purdue, it would have fallen out of the Big Ten title race altogether. The fourth-ranked Spartans (24-3, 12-2) are instead now tied for second place in the Big Ten with Purdue (23-4, 12-2), one game behind first-place Ohio State in the loss column.
To beat Purdue has to be especially satisfying for Michigan State because the Boilermakers have been one of the nation’s elite teams this season. They’ve showcased a multifaceted offense that scores by pounding the ball inside to Isaac Haas, by letting Carson Edwards and Vince Edwards create off the dribble or by bombing away from behind the arc.
Michigan State chose the strategy most Big Ten teams have against Purdue: Taking away the 3-pointer and attempting to force Haas to win the game one-on-one in the post. Haas scored 25 points on 22 shots, but the Boilermakers only made six threes the whole night and none in the second half, enabling the Spartans to stay in striking distance.
Going with veteran reserves Gavin Schilling and Kenny Goins down the stretch was a big part of Michigan State’s defensive success. It was Schilling who was able to hold his position against Haas on Purdue’s second-to-last possession, forcing the 7-footer into a tough shot and paving the way for Bridges’ heroics.
Bridges will get the headlines on Saturday for his scoring, but he wasn’t the only offensive catalyst for the Spartans. Cassius Winston tallied 10 points and 10 assists, Matt McQuaid came off the bench to bury a trio of threes and Michigan State turned the ball over only six times, not even half their season average.
When Bridges announced that he was passing up the chance to be a first-round pick in last June’s NBA draft and returning to Michigan State, he made that heavily scrutinized decision because he wanted to be part of a special season in East Lansing. He wanted to experience winning a Big Ten title, reaching a Final Four and perhaps even capturing a national championship.
Beating Purdue doesn’t accomplish any of those three goals, but it at least suggests that Michigan State is capable of such achievements. For all the turmoil the Spartans have been through the past month, they’re still a threat to win the Big Ten title and still in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.