“I don't think there's any better time than now for it to kind of all come together,” senior guard Cassius Winston said Monday.
No. 24 Michigan State (19-9, 11-6 Big Ten) made right on this sentiment — in the second half especially — in a 78-70 win over No. 18 Iowa (19-9, 10-7 Big Ten). It’s one coach Tom Izzo has attempted to instill and one many around East Lansing await annually with each Izzo team.
Prior to the opening tip, Winston bounced his way through the fans above the scorer’s table before controlling sophomore forward Marcus Bingham Jr.’s tip.
Then, in the first 20 minutes, Winston all but disappeared, posting one point on 0-for- 3 shooting on four assists. Junior forward Xavier Tillman picked up two tacky fouls that forced his presence to the bench for the latter 15 minutes of the opening 20.
But the rest of the cast came together this time, as freshman guard Rocket Watts continued his recent surge with a team-leading nine points in the first, and sophomore forward Aaron Henry followed with five of his own.
In this respect, it came together for MSU from the opening tip. But as the Spartans search for a third offensive threat, Winston must remain the most lethal of the three.
When asked if this final regular season stretch might incite a sense of urgency in the seniors, particularly Winston, Izzo had this to say:
“We are so — I don't want to use a harsh word — but stupid. … All of us, because we just think it's gonna happen,” Izzo said Monday. “And what I'm hoping is it finds a way to get a little better and where he realizes some things because there's times I can show him on film something and he barely sees it the same way, where last year he could see everything.”
Izzo’s hopes were prevalent as ever as MSU trailed by six entering the second half.
Winston curled to the top right and netted his first make from the outside on a designed play to cut Iowa’s lead to three. He’d hit three more and assist five buckets, including a masterful seeing-eye to Tillman for an easy two and a 53-51 lead.
We’ve seen displays like this from Winston in streaks this season. We’ve seen him convert an aimless first half into an explosive second. This time, the supporting cast brought him along until he snapped off 19 in the second half.
This time, after MSU failed to capitalize on a late-game advantage on so many occasions, especially in its final three-plus scoreless minutes in a loss to Maryland, Winston, nursing a two-point lead, assisted the long-awaited kill shot.
“That shot that I hit, it was just a dagger,” Watts said.
Watts hit a deep three as the shot clock expired. MSU rode a 66-61 lead into the final three minutes, as Winston galloped down the court with Watts in celebration.
“Just talking to him, telling him keep doing him, keep playing good,” Watts said as he explained the exchange. “We were just talking on the court because we knew we had to come out with the win. ... We just had to stay connected down the stretch. That's what we were talking about, and I feel like we did.”