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What We Learned: Rutgers Scarlet Knights 72, Michigan State Spartans 76

What we can take away from the Spartans overtime victory over the Scarlet Knights.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Well, I didn’t see this coming. And if you did, good for you!

Rutgers nearly picked up its first win against a ranked team on the road since 2008 as the Scarlet Knights took No. 4 Michigan State to extra time. Corey Sanders had a chance at clinching the huge upset victory but his jumper missed as time expired. Michigan State would get the best of Rutgers in overtime as the Spartans survived a scare, 76-72.

Despite missing the game winning shot, Sanders finished with a game-high 22 points and was the sole reason why Rutgers fought back from a double-digit second half deficit. Sophomore forward Nick Ward led Michigan State in scoring with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

It was an ugly game for the most part, but Michigan State was ultimately able to pick up the win. Here are a few takeaways from tonight’s overtime thriller.

What We Learned

1. Spartans win but wasn’t pretty

Michigan State fans may feel like their team lost the game, despite the Spartans scoring more points than the Scarlet Knights. It was that kind of game for Michigan State, and it may be time to start worrying a bit about this team.

Michigan State — technically — bounced back from its first lost in nearly two months to earn a victory over Rutgers on Wednesday night. It’s a win, and for a team looking to win the league, that’s what matters most. However, this was not an impressive performance and is very concerning when you look at some other teams in the league… cough, cough, Purdue.

Michigan State jumped out to an early 12-point lead in the first six minutes of the game, however things weren’t great for the Spartans from that point on. Rutger fought back and kept this game within striking distance with Michigan State only leading 32-25 at halftime. Rutgers kept chipping away in the second half and took their first lead in the final minute of the game. Luckily for the Spartans, Sanders’ buzzer-beater missed and the Spartans were able to gather the win in overtime.

The Spartans were actually not terrible shooting from the field, finishing the game with a 41.2 shooting percentage. Michigan State turned the ball over 13 times, but that’s nothing new. Statistically the Spartans weren’t terrible, but they just didn’t look dominant like we all expected them to be. Sophomore phenom Miles Bridges struggled — more on that later — and they just didn’t have the angry mindset following Sunday’s embarrassing loss at Ohio State as I expected. A win is a win, but overall this was a concerning performance for the green-and-white.

2. Sanders makes Rutgers tough to beat

Sanders was incredible in this game. Had he not got a cramp in overtime and missed a Rutgers offensive possession then the Scarlet Knights may have just won this game.

He was held in check in the first half, with only four points on 2-of-9 from the field. However, things changed in the second half — especially down the stretch — as he willed the Scarlet Knights to a great performance. As we already know, he finished with 22 points and most of it was from driving to the hoop or hitting pull-back jumpers. He was 0-for-4 from behind the arc but figured out Michigan State couldn’t consistently keep up with him when he drove to the rim.

Sanders gives Rutgers its best shot at pulling off upsets like this. We knew entering the season that he was a great player, however, he’s kind of gotten forgotten at times this year. Especially with how well freshman Geo Baker has played. Rutgers’ best chance at pulling off some upsets and being relevant in this league will run through Sanders.

3. Tough night for Bridges

Sometimes you just don’t have it. That was the case for Bridges against Rutgers.

Bridges was scoreless in the first half for the first time this year and ended the game with 11 points. Reaching double-digits in points for most wouldn’t be a bad night, but for someone as good as Bridges it was a bad night. He ended up shooting 3-for-10 from the field and at times it seemed like he wasn’t even looking at the hoop when the ball was in his hands.

The thing that got me the most was when he missed the first of two free throws with eight seconds left in the game. He hit the second to tie the game, which eventually sent it to overtime. However, as the guy this team relies on, he needed to hit both of those shots.

Bridges did make a lot of nice passes and ended up with four assists, so it’s not fair to say he didn’t contribute offensively. But we expect more out of him and I’m sure he’s just as disappointed about tonight’s game.

Overall

Well, both teams probably are upset with this one. Michigan State probably feels like it should have never been this close — Vegas agrees with the 22-point betting line it set. Rutgers probably feels like they let an opportunity at a program-defining win slip through their hands. For Michigan State, it’s a win against a team that knows how to play you tight. For Rutgers, it’s a missed opportunity but should give you confidence moving forward. After this game, I personally have more respect for the Scarlet Knights, and wonder if Michigan State is truly good enough to win this league.