EAST LANSING – Miles Bridges announced his arrival to college basketball with a swat, a shot and a slam.
And that was before halftime.
Breslin Center fans started chanting his name early and loudly as the highly touted freshman lived up to his advance billing in No. 9 Michigan State’s 93-69 exhibition opener Thursday night against Division II Northwood.
Bridges dazzled with an array of offensive and defensive plays, finishing with 33 points on 12-for-14 shooting, eight rebounds, four blocks and three assists. He drained all five of his three-point attempts.
“I was real comfortable coming out there,” said Bridges, who was ESPN.com’s eighth-ranked freshman for 2016. “I always airball my first shot in warmups so that’s how I knew I was going to be comfortable. My teammates got me the ball in the right spots, so it was a good game for me.”
It also was the debut for point guard Cassius Winston (No. 31) and big man Nick Ward (No. 39).
Ward – the Spartans’ only true center with injuries to seniors Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter – showed deft footwork on both ends and a soft touch and physical presence on offense. The 6-foot-9 freshman added 19 points, seven rebounds and a pair of blocks.
Winston finished with nine points and nine assists, including an alley-oop for a Ward dunk in transition.
“From an individual standpoint, I definitely needed that game just to see the flow, what things are allowed and what things are open,” Winston said. “At practice, we practice hard, but we can’t cover everything in practice. You need an actual game to see the environment, the timeouts and all types of stuff that play into it.”
Joshua Langford (No. 19 freshman, per ESPN.com) did not play due to an injured hamstring, though MSU coach Tom Izzo said he expects his shooting guard to play when the Spartans close their exhibition slate against Division II Saginaw Valley State on Wednesday (7 p.m., BTN-Plus). Only Kentucky and Duke’s freshman classes were ranked higher than MSU’s.
The Spartans shot 56.1% from the field, including 50% from three-point range, and turned the ball over just 10 times. However, Izzo spent the early part of his postgame comments focusing on MSU’s lack of effort in defense and rebounding at the outset of the game, calling it “a freshman moment” the young players will learn from during intense upcoming practices.
“I’m not sure how disappointed I should be in anything except the effort-related stuff. And that, I should be extremely disappointed,” Izzo said. “It doesn’t matter what grade you’re in, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. It should be a constant.”
It was hard to find much fault with Bridges, however. Every facet of the 6-foot-7 Bridges’ game was on display in the first half, in which he scored 17 points on 7-for-7 shooting and rejected four Northwood shots.
Bridges blocked a shot by Northwood’s Brad Schaub 27 seconds into the game, then got a shooter’s roll on a three from the corner for his first bucket near the 4-minute mark.
That was just a warmup.
Bridges converted a traditional three-point play midway through the half, then put his first highlight-reel moment on tape a few minutes later. He drove right – his weak hand – rose above a Northwood defender and threw home a tomahawk dunk that brought the crowd to its feet and had them chanting his name seconds later.
“He’s a manchild,” Northwood coach Jeff Rekeweg said. “That kid, he’s not a kid – he’s a man. His understanding of the game and just the way he carries himself, it’s beyond any freshman that I’ve seen before.”
After another three from the corner, Bridges drove into the paint and delivered a no-look pass to a cutting Kyle Aherns for a two-handed baseline dunk that put MSU ahead 28-22.
“I love assists way more than I love points,” Bridges said. “And I love to see my teammates succeed more than I do. … I just want to get my teammates involved because that gets me going, too.”
When Bridges dropped in a layup with 5 seconds left, he gave the Spartans a 48-35 halftime cushion.
After Northwood pulled within seven with 11:03 to play, Bridges quickly swished another three-pointer to help the Spartans pull away for good with a 22-12 run.
It took Izzo 2 minutes and 42 seconds into his postgame remarks before he mentioned his burgeoning star. But when he did, he couldn’t help but glow.
“I thought Bridges played pretty decent,” Izzo said, contorting a “no, duh” facial expression. “But he did it all within the framework of what we were doing. He looked very smooth, very comfortable.”
SCHILLING UPDATE: Izzo said he is still waiting to find out how long Schilling will miss. The senior center suffered a non-contact knee injury during practice Oct. 14.