It was classic Cassius Winston. The Spartan’s star point guard took a jumping three that he knew was going in as he walked away, smirking and sending the Breslin Center into complete chaos.
"You know when you hit a big shot," Winston said thinking back to the moment. "It was one of those shots that brings a lot of momentum. It was just a three but it might feel like five or six points just because of the crowd."
Led by the senior guard’s career-high 32 points, Michigan State men's basketball secured an 87-69 win against in-state rival No. 12 Michigan Sunday afternoon.
"It was one of the greater performances that this building has seen," coach Tom Izzo said regarding Winston's game Sunday afternoon.
"I tip my hat off to him, I really do … until tomorrow," Izzo said.
However as far as how the team played, Izzo said he did not see the final 18 point win as being representative of how the game played out, saying he would only give the team "a 10-point win."
“We did some really good things and we did some bone head things from the players to the coach and I think we learn from them and get better," Izzo said.
Earlier in the season, Izzo referred to Winston and junior forward Xavier Tillman as “Batman and Robin,” and in the No. 14 Spartans' victory over the Wolverines, the duo showed just why.
The energy started with a missed jumper by Winston that was tipped in by Tillman to give the Spartans their third-straight basket and secure a lead that they would hold onto the entire game.
Tillman ended with a double-double sinking 20 points and snatching 11 rebounds.
The size of the Wolverines, led by 7 foot, 1 inch center Jon Teske, proved the main, and only, challenge the Wolverines put up against the Spartans. Led by Teske’s 15 points and the team's 11 second-chance points, the Wolverines were able to keep it close at the start. However, late in the first it was the Spartans' team dynamic, prompted by communication on the court, and Winston's electric scoring rhythm that helped the green and white pull away as the Wolverines struggled with a 21.7 3-point percentage.
“I definitely believe that these last two games we been on the tear together, " Tillman said. "Everybody's been doing their role and we’ve been able to critique each other and take corrective criticism and take it honestly and not take it personal. That’s been huge in helping our development.”
MSU entered the half leading 44-34 and came back in the second stronger and more energetic than they were in the first.
The Spartans extended their lead 16 points in the second, with sophomore forwards Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham Jr. putting some notable points on the board and snatching rebounds just when the Spartans needed them.
Winston and Tillman found themselves in sync once again as a pass by Winston set Tillman up for a perfect dunk that was just the beginning of the energy the Spartans had in the second.
"We trust each other," Winston said regarding him and Tillman's connection on the court. "I trust what he has to say he trusts what I have to say and we kind of just adjust like that.”
The Spartans accelerated off of their second best performance from behind the arc all season, sinking 46.7% and making an impressive 52.8% from the paint.
Michigan took a 7-0 run and was able to pull the game back within single digits midway through the second but it still proved not to be enough, with Teske fouling out with 3:41 left.
Two back-to-back threes for freshman guard Rocket Watts in the final minute put the icing on the cake against an age-old rivalry matchup.
“The one thing I will say for me I learned after my first five losses, you better respect your rivals or it gets the best of you," Izzo said. "You can’t like your rival, but you can respect your rival and I have great respect for them and I think they have respect for us.”
With the win, the Spartans have extended their winning streak to seven straight games and improve to 4-0 in the Big Ten (12-3 overall). MSU will host Minnesota (7-6, 1-2 Big Ten) Thursday night (9:00/ESPN).