TULSA, OKLA. - Cassius Winston knifed into the lane and looked to make a lob pass.
It was short, stolen by Kansas. And, eventually, got into Winston’s friend Josh Jackson’s hands.
As the Detroit native dribbled down the court, his other good friend, Miles Bridges, dashed to keep up with him.
No chance. Layup.
It was an amalgam of many of the things Michigan State showed this season. The ninth-seeded Spartans fought through an early Bridges injury and late Nick Ward foul trouble to stay close. But they didn’t have enough depth and firepower to overcome the top-seeded Jayhawks in a 90-70 loss in the Midwest Region's second round of the NCAA tournament.
The loss ended MSU’s injury-plagued, up-and-down season with a 20-15 record. Bridges finished with 22 points and eight rebounds despite leaving the game with a right side injury in the first half. Fellow freshmen Ward had 13 points and Joshua Langford 10 for the Spartans.
Former MSU recruit Jackson finished with 23 points, three rebounds, two blocks and two steals for the Jayhawks (30-4). Frank Mason III had 20 points, Devonte’ Graham scored 18 and Landen Lucas had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Spartans pulled within a point, 54-53, on a Matt McQuaid three-pointer and Alvin Ellis layup with 12:14 left in the second half.
Kansas kept some distance, with MSU getting back within 69-64 with 7:14 left on another McQuaid three.
But the Jayhawks finished off the Spartans with a 21-5 eruption down the stretch.
Everything was going the way the Spartans had hoped early. Bridges opened the game with a three-pointer, then drove and powered in a layup through contact early. Ward and Winston each hit layups, and MSU held an early 9-6 lead.
That’s when the Spartans’ biggest foe this season – injury – struck just 4:55 into the game.
After Mason’s three-point play tied the game, Bridges reached for his lower right side near his hip and back as he tried to run back down the court. Officials stopped the game. He went to the bench for medical attention, holding a towel over his head trying to stretch out his side and eventually retreated to the locker room.
Kansas picked up a pair of three-pointers from Lagerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk with Bridges out, but the Spartans kept close thanks to three points from Kenny Goins, a jumper by Kyle Ahrens and a McQuaid three-pointer that tied it 17-17.
Bridges checked back in with 10:02 left and played the rest of the half, hitting a three-pointer over Jackson's outstretched arm. However, he did not appear to be 100% healthy and labored at times.
After a Winston three-pointer gave MSU a 25-23 lead, the Jayhawks took flight in front of an arena filled mostly by their fans. Kansas went on a 17-2 run, with Jackson and Mykhailiuk combining for 11 of them, and made 8 of 9 shots in that stretch.
MSU got a three-pointer by Langford with 1:12 left, then Bridges’ savvy fake off a baseline inbounds pass drew a foul and three free throws. He made them all with 2.4 ticks left to cut the Spartans’ halftime deficit to 40-35.
Despite the injury, Bridges had 13 points at half to lead MSU. Langford and McQuaid each scored five among the seven Spartans who scored. They shot 46.4% in the period.
Jackson, Mason and Mykhailiuk each had nine as six of the seven Jayhawks who played scored. They shot 50% for the half.
Detroit Free Press