If you used last season’s upset loss to Middle Tennessee State as reason to bet against Tom Izzo in March this time around, he made you regret it on Friday night.
Trailing by as many as a dozen in the first half, the No. 8 seeded Spartans rallied to end enter halftime on a 30-8 run en route to a 78-58 win over No. 8 seed Miami in the first round of the Midwest Region in Tulsa.
After a shaky start, which may have been expected given the youth on the Michigan State roster, the baby Spartans settled in. The comeback charge was led freshmen Nick Ward (19 points, seven rebounds), Miles Bridges (17 points, nine rebounds), Joshua Langford (13 points) and Cassius Winston (seven points, five assists to zero turnovers).
Ja’Quan Newton had a team-high 16 points, followed by Davon Reed’s dozen.
Ward was unquestionably the star of the night, converting on his first eight field goal attempts. He didn’t miss an attempt until five minutes remaining in regulation. At that point the game was all but decided.
As a team, the Spartans shot 73 percent on two-point shots, with 40 of their 78 points coming in the paint. They advance to play top-seeded Kansas on Sunday evening. It’s been well-documented that the Jayhawks have a thin frontline. It’s a concern that could stand in KU’s way from cutting down the nets in Phoenix. Size wasn’t a problem in a first-round blowout win earlier in the evening over a small UC Davis lineup, but wouldn’t statistics like that concern you if you were a Jayhawk? The Spartans pitched a tent and camped inside a Miami defense, which just happened to rank top-20 in defensive efficiency, for the majority of the night.
The Tom Izzo March Redemption Tour will attempt to see another weekend when Sparty takes on No. 1 Kansas on Sunday evening.