Oakland's Chris Palombizio delivered a hard foul, and Miles Bridges came up ready to swing but was held back.
Normally mild-mannered Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford started jawing in the ear of Oakland’s Martez Walker moments later.
Michigan State showed some uncharacteristic venom, along with some chronic concerns, that left coach Tom Izzo equally pleased and dissatisfied. The second-ranked Spartans knew they were in a fight with the Golden Grizzlies.
“I mean it’s an in-state game,” Bridges said. “We knew it was gonna be chippy from the jump. We knew there gonna be a lot of hard fouls.”
Oakland tested every bit of grit MSU could summon before that hard foul by Palombizio stopped a potential breakaway dunk for Bridges with 12:24 to play in the second game of the Hitachi College Basketball Showcase.
It also sparked the Spartans, who fought off the scrappy Golden Grizzlies 86-73 on Saturday in front of the largest crowd in the brief history of Little Caesars Arena (20,695).
Bridges hit a 3-pointer to swing the momentum to MSU with about 6 minutes left. And Winston, in his Detroit homecoming, scored all 19 of his points after that foul on Bridges, including MSU’s final 14 of the game, as the Spartans improved to 10-1 this season and 16-0 all-time against Oakland.
“We have to learn it’s gonna get chippy at Purdue, it’s gonna get chippy at Michigan, it’s gonna get chippy at Minnesota,” Izzo said. “Last year, we were playing to play. This year, we’re playing for something. And when you’re playing for something, it’s gonna get a little chippy.
“I liked the way we responded. I liked Cassius telling me what he was gonna do on the bench. I like that. I told him after that we gotta get a little more dog in us now — that’ll be the next step for us.”
All five MSU starters scored in double figures. Joshua Langford added 17 points, while Nick Ward had 15 points and 15 rebounds. Bridges finished with 11 points on just 3-of-10 shooting. Jaren Jackson Jr. added 10 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks.
“It kind of woke us up and brought that intensity out," Winston said of the foul on Bridges. “That energy after that, that we played with, we gotta figure out to bring that from the beginning. No matter what.
“The hard foul kind of motivated us, but we gotta motivate ourselves to play like that.”
The Spartans host Houston Baptist on Monday (6 p.m./Big Ten Network) and Long Beach State on Thursday (7 p.m./BTN Plus). Yet Izzo saw plenty of areas where his team still needs work Saturday — specifically turnovers and 3-point defense.
MSU appeared in command for most of the first half, taking a 31-19 lead with a 9-0 run, before spinning out of control. The Spartans committed five turnovers, three of them by Winston, in the last 5:04 of the period. Oakland scored five points off the giveaways and got 10 free throws to pull within 38-33 at halftime.
Winston finished with six of the Spartans’ 17 turnovers, while Jackson had three and Bridges and Tum Tum Nairn had two each.
“As I told Cassius, as good as he played, it’s unexcusable,” Izzo said. “We had a 12 point lead, and we made a couple of just ridiculous turnovers.”
Oakland (6-5) became the fifth opponent this season to make at least 10 3-pointers on the Spartans (10-1), with Kendrick Nunn getting five of them as part of his game-high 32 points.
MSU turned it over four more times in the first 6 minutes of the second half as Nunn — who did not start due to an ankle injury — hit three 3-pointers in that stretch to put the Grizzlies in front, 55-52.
It went back and forth from there. Oakland’s Jalen Hayes hit his team’s seventh 3-pointer of the half with 7:59 to play to tie it at 66-66, but it would be its last from behind the arc.
In a 3-minute spurt, the Spartans got four 3-pointers from Jackson, Bridges and two from Winston to go back up by 10. They rode Winston the rest of the way to victory.
“We took some punches,” Izzo said. “They hit some shots in a row, guys, and the place started getting into it. And that’s where I thank our fans, because we had more of them and they rose up. And we hit a couple of those 3s, it changed. …
“We found a way to win the game. That’s all that matters.”
Nunn made just one free throw in the final 9:35 after Izzo moved Nairn to guard him. Hayes added 14 points, and Walker scored 13 for Oakland, which hosts Towson on Wednesday (7 p.m., TV20).
“We got beat by the best team in the country with the best coach in the country today,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “There’s no question about that.”