PORTLAND, Ore. — Entering a Sunday game against reigning national champion North Carolina,Michigan State coach Tom Izzo wasn’t pleased with his team’s performances in the previous two games of the Phil Knight 80 Invitational.
“I can’t say that I am not disappointed in my team,” Izzo said after a Friday win over Connecticut. “I just don’t think we are playing really well offensively.”
The fourth-ranked Spartans took their coach’s message to heart as Joshua Langford led them to a 63-45 win over the ninth-ranked Tar Heels in the championship game of the tournament’s Victory Bracket.
“It was a good win against a good team,” Izzo said.
Langford finished with a game-high 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, including a 5-of-7 showing from beyond the arc.
“He looked so much more confident tonight,” Izzo said of Langford. “He was the big difference in the game.”
Miles Bridges, Michigan State‘s preseason All-American, was back in the starting lineup after spraining an ankle one week ago. He finished with 11 points in 26 minutes.
With its quartet of big men, Michigan State (5-1) was able to harass North Carolina’s Luke Maye all game long. And when the Spartans weren’t all over Maye, they were making life extremely tough at the rim for guards Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson.
Maye finished with eight points and six rebounds, well below his tournament averages of 24 and 13. Likewise, Berry was held in check to seven points on 2-of-11 shooting. Pinson finished with a team-high 16 points.
“Their coach is one of the greatest coaches in the game, and I don’t even know if he’ll say his team played great,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “But he got his club to play a lot better than I got my club to play tonight.”
Michigan State broke the game open early in the second half when it went on a 15-4 run to take a commanding 54-33 lead with 11:05 to play.
North Carolina (5-1) tried to make things interesting with a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 12 with 4:31 left, but Bridges scored in traffic to end the comeback attempt.
Even with the win, Izzo wasn’t pleased with some things.
The Spartans committed 23 fouls, turned the ball over 24 times and were outscored 21-12 in points off turnovers. Michigan State made up for it by outrebounding the Tar Heels 52-36.
“I didn’t think we’d ever win a game with 24 turnovers. I didn’t even realize it was that bad,” Izzo said. “They say defense and rebounding wins championships a lot of times, and this was a championship we won that way.”
For the game, North Carolina shot the ball historically bad.
The Tar Heels made 15 of 61 (24.6 percent) attempts from the field and an abysmal 1 of 18 (5.6 percent) from 3-point territory. Both the field-goal and 3-point shooting percentages were the worst in North Carolina history.
“It was about as bad an exhibition as I’ve ever seen,” Williams said. “I did a poor job coaching, getting my team ready, of any game I’ve ever coached. (The Spartans) were physically, mentally, emotionally more in the game than my club was.”
In large part to its defense, the first half belonged to Michigan State.
Every time North Carolina brought the ball in the paint, the Spartans collapsed from all angles, either forcing a wild shot or a kick-out. Once the ball was passed outside, Michigan Staterecovered well enough to run the Tar Heels off the 3-point line.
The strategy worked as North Carolina was held to 7-of-30 shooting in the first half, including a 1-for-8 showing from beyond the arc.
The game was back and forth at the outset. The Spartans held a five-point advantage before an 18-7 run really opened things up. Michigan State hit four 3-pointers in the run while limiting North Carolina to no offensive rebounds.
Berry was able to steal some of the momentum back for the Tar Heels when his 3-pointer at the buzzer was good, leaving his team trailing 37-23.
NOTES: The 45 points scored by North Carolina represented its lowest output since a 53-43 loss to Virginia last year. … Michigan State F Jaren Jackson Jr. was assessed a flagrant foul for an inadvertent elbow in the second half … Michigan State G Cassius Winston was selected the MVP of the Victory Bracket. He had seven points and seven assists Sunday.