Jaren Jackson Jr. rose in the air and easily swatted Notre Dame star Bonzie Colson.
The ball flowed to Cassius Winston as Michigan State ran out on the break. He threw a towering pass toward the hoop, where Miles Bridges soared over both Notre Dame’s T.J. Gibbs and his own teammate, Nick Ward.
It was exactly the kind of offensive start for which the third-ranked Spartans had been searching. And it was one they needed after the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish fought back in the second half before MSU pulled away to an 81-63 victory on Thursday night at Breslin Center in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Winston and Joshua Langford each scored 17 points to lead the Spartans (6-1), with Winston netting five 3-pointers while adding seven assists. Bridges finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists. Ward added 12 points and five boards.
Colson finished with 17 points and six rebounds for the Irish (6-1), who cut MSU’s lead to seven with a 20-7 run to open the second half. But the Spartans all but put the game away on a Winston 3-pointer, followed by another Winston-to-Bridges alley-oop dunk with about 6 minutes to play.
Tom Izzo was worried about MSU’s slow starts at the PK80. For the second straight game, the Spartans’ offense asserted itself early.
Winston drained a 3-pointer off a kick-out pass from Bridges on MSU’s first possession. Ward got a tip-in on the second. By the time Winston fed Bridges for the alley-oop dunk, the Spartans were up 9-2.
It continued from there, with Langford continuing the confident shooting he showed in Sunday’s blowout of North Carolina at the PK80. The sophomore shooting guard hit a layup off a Winston dish to spark a 13-3 run, in which Langford hit four straight jumpers from four different spots on the court. When he made a pair of free throws at the midpoint of the opening period, the Spartans’ lead had swelled to 31-11.
MSU made 12 of its first 18 shots, while the Irish were just 4 of 13 at the halfway point of the opening period.
Irish fight back
Despite the Spartans’ 46-26 lead at halftime, Notre Dame battled back early in the second half. Colson, who had been held to six points on 3 of 9 shooting in the opening half, drew Jackson’s third foul just 30 seconds into the second.
That allowed the 6-foot-6 senior to begin to have his way against MSU’s defense in the paint, off the dribble and outside. Colson scored six points in the Irish run to open the half, and they cut MSU's lead to 53-46 on Matt Farrell’s jumper with 13:07 to play.
The Spartans, however, countered with a 26-7 knockout punch. Winston hit three 3-pointers in that stretch. MSU went 9 of 21 from the arc.
Junior Kenny Goins, who missed four games with a knee injury, returned late in the first half for the first time since MSU’s loss to Duke and promptly grabbed a rebound.
Matt McQuaid, who played through a foot injury against North Carolina, also played and hit a first-half 3-pointer and tallied five first-half points. He finished with nine points.
Bridges, still playing on an ankle that’s not 100 percent yet, showed some limitations on the defensive end. But his foot clearly was healthy enough to fly in for the dunk that sent Gibbs and Ward sprawling across the floor below him.
With the Big Ten tournament moved up a week to play at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Spartans open conference action early. It starts Sunday with a 4:30 p.m. tip against Nebraska at Breslin (Fox Sports 1).