DETROIT — Four points. That was the difference between Michigan State and Bucknell in their first round game of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. The Spartans beat the Bison by a final score of 82-78 on Friday evening.
“It was a game that I thought was one of the more bizarre — I thought we were playing Purdue,” said MSU head coach Tom Izzo. “It was a fistfight. It was physical. It was kind of out of control. I thought we did some very, very, very good things when we had the 11-point lead. And the second half we got rolling again. And thanks to Cassius running the thing and we really went to Miles and Josh we went to all night. So I thought everybody stepped up and kind of ashamed they hit all those 3s at the end, but at the same time give them credit.”
Forward Miles Bridges led the Spartans with 29 total points including 12 field goals, three 3-pointers and nine rebounds. Guard Joshua Langford put up 22 points for MSU including seven field goals, one 3-pointer and four rebounds. Other Spartans of note include Cassius Winston with 11 points, Nick Ward with eight points, along with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman, who both had six points.
“It felt good hitting that first shot,” said Joshua Langford. “But I think the biggest thing I was trying to focus on was just trying to help my team win, and that was on the defensive end, not just on the offensive end. And my team did an unbelievable job finding me.”
Meanwhile, Forward Zach Thomas led the Bucknell Bison with 27 total points including seven field goals, three 3-pointers and five rebounds. Guard Stephen Brown put up 20 points including five field goals, four 3-pointers and one rebounds. Other Bison of note include Kimbal Mackenzie with 10 points, along with Nana Foulland and Nate Sestina with seven points a piece.
“Obviously we’d like to have won a game, but I thought we competed well,” said Zach Thomas. “I think we got a tough draw this year for sure, which kind of sucked. But besides that, I’m really proud of how we’ve competed. And each one of us, I think, each year we’ve gotten better, like Nana said, as basketball players but also as people. I love these guys and the rest of my teammates as well. We’ve kind of made a name for Bucknell and the Patriot League a little bit. We’ve competed the last two years.”
Michigan State’s largest lead over Bucknell was by 18 points in the 2nd half with 4:16 remaining. On the other hand, Bucknell only led Michigan by one point in the 1st half with 5:24 left on the clock. The game was tied for exactly one minute and one second before scoring commenced.
It was a “home” game of sorts for the Spartans. Michigan State only had to travel 62 miles to get to LCA. Meanwhile, Bucknell had to travel 450 miles from their campus in Lewisburg, Pa.
“I feel we have the best fan base in the country,” said Miles Bridges. “They really came out and supported us today. And that really helped us when we were down a little bit. When Bucknell was going on the run, our crowd really got us going.”
Thousands of Spartan fans showed up to support their team. I could hear fans chanting loudly “Go Green! Go White!” from the press box. There were way less Bucknell fans in the audience.
Michigan State led 44-40 at the half over Bucknell. Their largest lead was by 11 points with 10:05 remaining in the 1st. Bucknell’s largest lead was by only one point at 5:24 remaining in the 1st.
At the half, Joshua Langford scored 15 points including seven field goals while Miles Bridges scored 10 points made up of four field goals. As for Bucknell, Zach Thomas scored 20 points including six field goals while Stephen Brown scored six points.
“First, I thought our guys came out, competed, never backed down, never stopped playing,” said Bucknell head coach Nathan Davis. “That’s why we were in the position we were in to be here in the first place. Gotta give our guys a lot of credit for the way they played, the poise we played with. But at the same time, give Michigan State a lot of credit. I thought they played well.”
This was the second-ever meeting between the Spartans and the Bison. The last time they played was Nov. 21, 2003 in East Lansing. Michigan State’s current streak of 21 consecutive NCAA tournament ranks 3rd nationally. MSU finished with a 16-2 conference record and claimed the outright regular-season title. The Spartans have made nine trips to the Final Four.
Tom Izzo is one of four head coaches to lead one school to at least 20 consecutive NCAA appearances. In its 31 NCAA tournaments, MSU has a record of 24-7 in its first game of the tournament
MSU Sophomore guard/forward Miles Bridges was named a Second Team All-American by The Sporting News and by USA Today. Jaren Jackson Jr. was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year by the media and coaches.
Bucknell made its eighth NCAA tournament appearance overall and first in consecutive years since reaching the tournament in 2005 and 2006. They came off an eight-game winning streak including an 83-54 victory over Colgate to seal the automatic bid. The Bison are 2-7 overall in their previous NCAA tournament games
Once again, the Michigan State Spartans beat the Bucknell Bison by a final score of 82-78. MSU will advance to the second round to play Syracuse at LCA on Sunday.