Michigan State men's basketball coach Tom Izzo said earlier this week that “the highs are too high, and the lows are too low.”
While this assessment is, at times, painfully accurate for the Spartans, they continued their upward climb Friday night after being knocked from their eight-game pedestal at Purdue in blowout fashion.
Senior guard Cassius Winston getting six points on four assists and missing all three of his three-point attempts is typically a recipe for disaster. Pair that with two 13-0 second-half Badgers runs and a streaking shooter in Nate Reuvers and you’ve got the formula for MSU’s struggles in 2020.
But in MSU’s 67-55 win over Wisconsin, it got a full game out of sophomore forward Aaron Henry ,and saw the season’s best performance from freshman guard Rocket Watts.
Henry utilized his ambidextrous touch near the rim, all the while taking good shots and committing just one personal foul. The second-year swingman continues to showcase the many commonalities he shares with Winston, presenting level-headedness, sometimes to a fault, through struggles and extraordinary court vision in the high post.
“Aaron (Henry) just needs … he needs people to artificially motivate him,” Izzo said. “Aaron was mad at Aaron, and that's always a positive when a player can self-evaluate. So there was no question that him, Gabe and Rocket were special for us tonight.”
Henry finished with 13 points and five rebounds.
Watts’ performance may prevail as more significant for a team desperate for outside shooters, as the freshman from Spire Academy relinquished his three-point struggles to convert 3-of-5 long-range attempts.
The Detroit native garnered significant time running the point with Winston off the ball.
His ability as an effective secondary distributor to his senior counterpart came to fruition early in the second half. As Izzo motioned to halt the fast break, Winston whipped a pass up to Watts, who in turn found senior forward Xavier Tillman for an alley-oop finish.
"It's just the connection we all got,” Watts said of his acclamation to playing the point. “We all got great connection and, when I caught it, I knew what (Tillman) wanted. He looked at me and I just gave it to him.”
Sophomore forward Marcus Bingham was hitting turnarounds. Fellow second-year forward Gabe Brown was hitting all five of his attempts. Freshman forward Malik Hall was singing along to Soulja Boy after completing a basket on Winston's 816th assist. Not to mention a budding post presence in freshman forward Julius Marble and improved understudy play from sophomore guard Foster Loyer.
At one point, many wondered what, if anything, would spark this team into a stride.
They’ve hit it, and wins like this show just how high this team’s ceiling is.
“Cash had a tough night,” Izzo said. “To win a game like that, with my star having maybe his most average performance, I guess that speaks volumes.”