DETROIT — Two late threes from Cassius Winston led No. 2 MSU to its ninth consecutive win on Saturday, as MSU staved off a near upset by Horizon league opponent Oakland University, 86-73, at Little Caesars Arena.
In front of a crowd of 20,645, the largest ever at the new Little Caesars Arena, Winston was one of five Spartans to finish in double figures and scored a team-high 19 points to go with six rebounds and three assists.
Shooting guard Joshua Langford also scored 17 points to lift MSU (10-1 overall) over Oakland (6-5). Forward Nick Ward scored 15 and chipped in 15 rebounds. Guard Miles Bridges had 11 points and forward Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 10 to go with seven boards.
"I liked the fact we didn’t hang our heads, I actually kept my cool, this was a good game for us to win," MSU coach Tom Izzo said. "We’re coming off finals, I imagine they may be too. It was a big game for us to win."
Oakland’s Kendrick Nunn helped the Golden Grizzlies nearly upset the Spartans — he scored a game-high 32 points. Nunn, a transfer from Illinois and former All-Big Ten Freshman selection converted on 9-of-19 shooting with five threes and nine makes from the free throw line.
Oakland coach Greg Kampe said it was a late decision to let Nunn, who's been out since last Wednesday with a sprained right ankle, play.
Kampe, however, was displeased his team wasn't able to pull out a win.
"This isn’t any crappy moral (victory) crap," Kampe said. "We should have won the game. Oakland should have won this game."
"We just didn’t make plays down the stretch. It had everything to do with us not making plays."
MSU’s defense came out stingy once again, holding the Golden Grizzlies to 37.3 percent shooting from the floor the entire game.
The Spartans broke out for their largest lead of the night halfway through the first half. Four straight baskets, capped off by a three from Matt McQuaid at the top of the key pushed MSU’s lead to 31-19.
MSU led 31-19 with 5:11 until halftime, however, Oakland went to the free throw line six times and clawed its way to a five-point deficit at halftime, 38-33.
Oakland carried momentum into the second half. Baskets from Nunn, Jalen Hayes and Martez Walker helped form a 26-13 run over the Spartans. Back-to-back threes from Nunn and Walker tied the game with 16:56 to play, and a free throw from Walker after his three gave Oakland its first lead of the half.
"He’s got a good team," Izzo said of Kampe. "I think this is one of his best teams. Experience makes a difference. That’s what we’re saying in our meetings now. When you get three and four years guys, they’re going to be better than most freshmen."
Oakland extended its lead to three points, before a 14-6 run put MSU back in the driver’s seat. Nine of MSU’s points in that run came after Chris Palombizio fouled Bridges hard on a breakaway dunk.
After the foul, Bridges went off for another seven points.
The Golden Grizzlies tied it once again with nine minutes to play on a quick 5-0 run. Threes from Langford and Jackson tried to put some separation for the Spartans, but after a three from Hayes, MSU had a one point lead.
A three from Bridges and back-to-back daggers from WInston behind the arc with 3:04 to play pushed MSU’s lead to 10.
The win is MSU’s 16th against Oakland all-time, while the Golden Grizzlies remain winless in the series.
MSU will welcome Houston Baptist to the Breslin Center on Monday. Tipoff for that game is 6 p.m.