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Chris Solari | Detroit Free Press | November 27, 2017

Michigan State's 'dirty work' stifles North Carolina for PK80 title

  Michigan State held North Carolina to its worst shooting performance in school history.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Michigan State made history -- and a statement to the college basketball world -- with its defense and rebounding.

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Against North Carolina, the defending national champions, the fifth-ranked Spartans gave Tom Izzo a vital victory over one of his peers and delivered the kind of performance he cherishes most.

MSU will return to East Lansing with the PK80 Victory Bracket championship. Joshua Langford set career highs with 23 and five 3-pointers in a 64-45 rout of the ninth-ranked Tar Heels on Sunday night at Moda Center to close out their third win in four days out west.

"This is a great team win," said Langford, who was named to the Victory Bracket all-tourney team, "because we won the game on the defensive end. ... Everybody wants to do it now. There's more of a mindset now. We understand that the only way we're gonna be able to win is if we defend. Defense wins championships."

In doing so, the Spartans (5-1) clamped down on the Tar Heels (5-1) in historic fashion. They held UNC to program-lows of 24.6 percent field-goal shooting and 5.6 percent from the 3-point line. MSU also outrebounded the Tar Heels, 52-36, to help overcome its own season-high 24 turnovers.

The Spartans' stifling numbers defensively in the three-game tournament were staggering. MSU held DePaul, Connecticut and UNC to a combined 28.4 percent shooting and just 21.4 percent from the 3-point arc.

"What I think this does is reassure to our guys -- the way basketball is right now, it's all this pretty-boy stuff," Izzo said. "And at the end of the day, most of the good teams are still winning by doing the dirty work. ... Defending and rebounding hasn't changed since a long, long, long, long time ago, when Jud (Heathcote) was in high school. It's not gonna change, at least in my program."

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Miles Bridges (ankle) started the game after coming off the bench Friday and finished with 11 points and five rebounds, part of a balanced scoring and rebounding performance. Fellow sophomore Cassius Winston was named Victory Bracket MVP and had seven points, seven assists and five rebounds on Sunday.

"It's huge, especially on a team with all these dudes," Winston said. "It's crazy."

Izzo had lost seven in a row to Roy Williams' Tar Heels, picking up his first win against his fellow Hall of Fame coach since Williams was at Kansas. Izzo is now 2-9 against Williams and 3-9 all-time against North Carolina. The Spartans are 4-12 in their history against the Tar Heels.

"You know, it's important," Izzo said. "Hey, listen, everybody knows that we haven't beaten Duke much, we haven't beaten Carolina much. One of the reasons is we've played them a lot -- a lot more than any other nonconference teams. We're not afraid to play 'em, we play 'em.

"We get our brains beat in, we learn from them, we get better hopefully. As I said, we keep knocking at the door, sooner or later, the thing is gonna open. Today, we won in an ugly way -- that's OK."

MSU built a 21-point lead midway through the second half before UNC chipped away it at the free-throw line to make it 55-43 with 4:32 to play.

But Bridges drove and hit a layup and Jaren Jackson Jr. buried a 3-pointer to keep the Tar Heels from getting any closer.

UNC missed its first seven from 3-point range until Joel Berry II hit one as time expired at the first-half buzzer. That would be their only 3-pointer of the night in 18 attempts. Theo Pinson (16 points) was the only UNC player to score in double figures.

"I did as poor a job of coaching and getting my team ready as any game I've ever coached," Williams said. "They were physically, mentally and emotionally into the game more than my club was."

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Foul problems again plagued the Spartans. They were whistled for 23 to UNC's 14, but the Tar Heels went just 14 for 24 at the free-throw line. MSU's turnovers didn't help, either. All 11 of the Spartans who played committed at least one turnover in the game. They led to 21 UNC points.

Izzo called it "a bizarre win" because of that combination of stats.

"I'm sure they never thought they'd hit one 3 in a game, I've never seen Roy's teams do that. I didn't think we'd ever win a game with 24 turnovers -- I didn't even realize it was that bad," Izzo said. "But you know, they say defense and rebounding wins championships a lot of times. This was a championship we won that way."

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Izzo said McQuaid had a sprained arch in his foot, but the junior played 22 minutes and had seven points on 1 of 6 shooting with two rebounds. Nick Ward added seven points, eight rebounds and four blocks.

Things don't get easier for the Spartans. They return home Monday before hosting No. 12 Notre Dame at 7 p.m. Thursday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (ESPN).

"We don't shy away from it," Winston said. "To go where we want to go, we play the best teams. ... That's just how we want to get it done."

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 legal@newscred.com.