PORTLAND, Ore. -- Miles Bridges made his return off the bench and received a boisterous ovation. By the end of Friday night, the crowd grew even louder -- but not because of Michigan State's sophomore superstar.
It was Cassius Winston that Bridges wanted to talk about.
"It was like I was in high school again, watching him go against other top guards in the country," Bridges said of his classmate. "Cassius took the challenge, and he went with it. And I'm just happy I don't have to score."
Winston executed an offensive takeover, scoring 18 points in the final 8-plus minutes. He made his last eight shots, swishing 3-pointers, hitting step-back jumpers and banking in off-balance layups while attacking the basket with extreme assuredness.
Cassius Winston with a career high 28 points in tonight's win! On to the next round pic.twitter.com/fkH63FPDJ1— Spartan Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) November 25, 2017
In the second half alone, Winston eclipsed his career points total in a virtually unstoppable performance. He scored 23 of his career-high 28 points and made 10 of 11 shots after halftime. That pushed the fifth-ranked Spartans pull past Connecticut to a 77-57 victory on Friday night in the Phil Knight Invitational.
"It felt great getting in that groove like that," said Winston, who finished 12 of 15 for the game and added five assists, three rebounds and no turnovers. "That's any basketball player's dream, with everything falling."
The Spartans (4-1) advance to the championship game of the Victory Bracket of the PK80, where they will face No. 9 North Carolina at 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday at Moda Center. The Tar Heels (5-0) defeated Arkansas earlier Friday to move on to the title game.
Tom Izzo is 2-9 against North Carolina. He has lost seven straight to Roy Williams' Tar Heels since the 2005 Final Four, including the 2009 NCAA championship game, and is 1-9 all-time against Williams.
"We need to execute. If we don't do that on Sunday, we'll be going home with a loss," Izzo said. "That's what these preseason games are for. A lot of things to be proud of, a couple things to be disappointed in."
Jaren Jackson Jr. had 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Nick Ward had 11 points and nine boards for the Spartans.
Bridges came off the bench after missing MSU's PK80-opening win over DePaul on Thursday with a sprained left ankle that he suffered Sunday in a victory over Stony Brook. He checked into the game with 16:08 left in the first half to a round of applause.
One second later, there was just as big a groan as he picked up his first foul while going for an offensive rebound on a missed Gavin Schilling free throw. The 6-foot-7 forward got called for his second foul and sat out the final 8:14 of the opening period.
However, Bridges finished with six points and eight rebounds in 17 minutes.
"I'm feeling great -- we got a win," Bridges said.
MSU and UConn both struggled to start the game, combining to make just 8 of 31 shots in the first eight minutes.
The Spartans made 32.4 percent from the floor in the opening half, though they were 3 of 7 from 3-point range to take a 28-27 lead into intermission. MSU also held the Huskies to 8 for 27 shooting (29.6 percent) in the first 20 minutes and 35.1 percent for the game.
"We played a better second half," Izzo said. "But we're playing better defensively than we are offensively."
Ward, whom Izzo sat on the bench early after a defensive lapse, sparked the Spartans late in the first half and early in the second. He had a tip-in to give MSU the lead for good late in the first half, then scored the first four points of the second period as part of a 15-6 burst that extended it to a double-digit cushion.
Winston hit a step-back jumper and a pull-up 3-pointer as part of that run. But after UConn cut the Spartans' lead back to seven points, that's when the 6-foot University of Detroit Jesuit High product took over the game. He scored eight straight MSU points, assisted on a Xavier Tillman layup, then scored 10 of MSU's final 14 points.
"Cassius played the best game of his career here," Izzo said. "I thought he played within himself. ... Cassius was really good offensively, and that's happened a lot of times in his career. But I think the difference is he became better defensively."
MSU committed just eight turnovers, none from point guards Winston and Tum Tum Nairn.
Jalen Adams had 22 points and Terry Larrier 18 for UConn (4-1).
This article is written by Chris Solari from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.