Miles Bridges outlasted Zach Thomas, scoring 29 points and grabbing nine rebounds to help second-seeded Michigan State hold on for an 82-78 win over Bucknell on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Thomas fouled out on a technical with 6:06 left and finished with 27 points. He put on a show in the first half, scoring 20 points and making all three of his shots beyond the 3-point arc to keep the Bison close.
The Spartans (30-4) made the most of playing about 75 miles from campus in a packed arena with green-and-white clad fans in the stands. They roared when Bridges dunked, as he did once on a spectacular slam off an offensive rebound, and jeered when replays showed a foul called against their team.
Michigan State will play the winner of the Syracuse-TCU game on Sunday.
Leading by 15 points with 2 minutes left, Michigan State won by a slim margin after Bucknell (25-10) made a late flurry of long-range shots.
The Spartans didn't start rusty, like some Big Ten teams after a long layoff, but found out quickly Thomas was as good if not better than they thought.
Thomas, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, made a 3-pointer to put the Patriot League champions ahead 28-27 with 5:24 left in the first half. Joshua Langford, who scored 15 of his 22 points in the first half, gave Michigan State the lead on the ensuing possession and it never lost it.
The Spartans, though, did have to make enough free throws in the final seconds to hold off a charge from the 3-point making Bison.
Michigan State's Cassius Winston scored 11 points and Nick Ward had eight points, surviving a scare after tumbling onto his head.
Nana Foulland scored 20 points and Kimball Mackenzie had 10 points for the Bison.
Bucknell: Thomas showed NBA scouts he can create his own shot against major college players and perhaps gave recruits a glimpse of how they can be featured by the Bison.
Michigan State: The Spartans simply wanted to survive after a long layoff and they did, but they will need to play a more complete game to continue playing beyond Sunday.
Michigan State is trying to advance from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
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