CHICAGO — Despite leading the top-seeded Michigan State Spartans with 21 points in their 67-55 Big Ten tournament semifinal victory over fourth-seeded Wisconsin, junior point guard Cassius Winston was asked mostly about his health postgame.
His head coach, Tom Izzo, revealed Friday that Winston had sprained his left big toe against Michigan the week before. This, coupled along with the ongoing tendonitis in his right knee, sparked concern on the MSU bench.
Winston told reporters he tweaked the toe at some point during the first half of Saturday's game. Though he played 28 minutes, he was notably absent for stretches of the second half, when the game was still very much in doubt.
Izzo said he wasn’t always sure of Winston’s availability through the course of the game.
“Cassius has been on adrenaline for a while,” Izzo said. “At halftime, you know, I really didn't know what was going to happen. So adrenaline kicked in, and it got him through parts of another half. I'm not complaining about it, I'm just being honest with you. I think everybody hides one thing or hides the other.”
He was asked about how he balances the pain of the injuries that affect both legs.
“When I tweak (the toe), that’s the only time it really hurts,” Winston said. “I don’t usually tweak it every game... it’s not really anything compensating, I just make it happen. If it does hurt, I dig through it.”
He said he doesn’t expect to play a different style with the injuries, saying that MSU relies on his ability to create on the fast break too much for him to switch it up.
“You gotta go with the flow of the game, the pace of the game,” he said. “You gotta be smart, if they’re going on a run, it’s probably not smart to go in transition. You just gotta feel the pace of the game.”
Foster Loyer, a freshman from Clarkston, Michigan, serves as Winston’s back-up. He put up two good performances in the first two days of the Big Ten tournament, including scoring 14 and making four three-pointers Friday against Ohio State. He said knowing Winston isn’t 100 percent changes his role.
“It gives you a little bit more of a sense of urgency,” Loyer said. “I know that at any minute, necessarily, my number could get called. It’s my job to be ready when that time comes. With him being a little banged up, that’s gonna be enhanced even more.”
Though Loyer is embracing his expanded role, playing 30 minutes over the last two days, he does not foresee Winston missing a beat in the Big Ten Championship game Sunday versus Michigan.
“(Winston is) banged up, but I don’t think it’s ever something serious,” Loyer said. “With him, he’s played 40 minutes a couple games this year. He’s just put such long wear and tear on his body. I think, come tomorrow, he’s gonna be ready to go.”
Winston is expected to play and start.
“I do a good job of getting stretching, getting treatment, all that type of stuff before the game,” Winston said. “So, I’m able to go.”