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Friendly Fire: Josh Jackson and Miles Bridges enjoy matchup against each other
Tulsa, Okla. — Matched up against each other for the majority of Sunday’s second-round game at BOK Center, Josh Jackson and Miles Bridges enjoyed the opportunity to play each other on college basketball’s biggest stage.
Kansas freshman Jackson had the upper hand over one of his good friends, scoring a game-high 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting in KU’s 90-70 win against Michigan State to advance to the Sweet 16. He added three rebounds and two blocks in 36 minutes.
Bridges led the Spartans with 22 points and eight rebounds on 7-of-15 shooting in 34 minutes. He briefly went to the locker room in the first half with a hip pointer.
The sight of Jackson and Bridges dominating in a game was nothing new to MSU coach Tom Izzo, who noted he saw it plenty while recruiting both of them.
“I give all the credit in the world to Josh. I thought he's improved his jump shot a lot,” Izzo said. “And he does play hard, but I look at the stats and I look at the game and I think about the injury and the time he missed, I'm really, really proud of Miles. And you know what, I'm proud of Josh.”
Jackson scored 14 points in the second half and put the finishing touches on KU’s victory with a right-handed slam down the lane in the final minutes for a 15-point lead.
Before facing Bridges and childhood friend Cassius Winston (seven points, eight assists), Jackson said Kansas coaches told him not to be too amped up when the game started.
“I came out and was still just a little too excited. I tried to force stuff a little bit,” Jackson said. “But as the game went on, I felt like the game started slowing down, it came to me a little bit more. And I just had to realize it was just another game, and it was about Kansas basketball versus Michigan State, and it wasn't about me versus Miles.”
In his first — and likely only — NCAA Tournament, Jackson is averaging 20 points and five rebounds on 17-of-28 shooting (61 percent).
Both Jackson and Bridges, potential lottery picks in the upcoming NBA draft, played with and against each other since the sixth grade in AAU games. Jackson grew up in Detroit, Bridges in Flint, Mich.
“I knew it was going to be a fun game before it even started,” Jackson said. “So it was just really fun to be able to go out there and play against those guys and really proud to see them here and having success.”
Bridges, the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year, opened the game with a 3-pointer over Jackson and backed up some of his trash-talking with strong play in the post.
“It's always good playing against Josh,” Bridges said. “It gets a little physical at times. We compete every time we play against each other. He's a great player. He's going to have huge success in the league, so it's always good playing against him.”
For fans, it was an opportunity to see an NBA preview, where both players could have big roles for the next decade.
But Sunday, the main focus for each player was just trying to find a way to win and keep his season alive.
“Two great players going at it,” Izzo said. “The stats were somewhat the same, but I think Josh has really played well. He's really come on."