Hungry for redemption after a one point performance in the first half, senior guard Cassius Winston put up 19 points in the second, leading Michigan State men's basketball to a 78-70 win over Iowa Tuesday night at the Breslin Center.
Winston came out of the half time locker room to put up 14 points in the first six minutes of the second half. He recorded 20 total points and nine assists on the night.
But Winston wasn't the only superstar. Sophomore forward Aaron Henry and freshman guard Rocket Watts also scored in double digits, with Henry recording 17 and Watts tying his career high with 21.
Early foul trouble sat junior forward Xavier Tillman, who wore his new “Tillman Sr.” jersey after the birth of his son on Feb. 17, with 15:12 left in the first half, and lead to an unusual first half for the Spartans that proved the depth on their roster.
With Tillman and Winston off to a slow start, Watts and freshman forward Malik Hall looked hungry for shots all night. Watts put up nine while Hall put up four in the first half, playing a huge role in helping the Spartans fall not too far behind, entering the half trailing 33-27.
“Our team was able to make shots, make plays," Winston said. "To go down against a team like that only down six when I had one point, X (Tillman) had no points, that puts us in a good position that if we just go out there and play to our ability we should be alright.”
Sophomore forward Marcus Bingham Jr.’s length helped in the Spartans effort to put a stop to Iowa’s junior center Luka Garza, especially in Tillman’s benched minutes. However, Garza’s 6-foot-11-inch, 260 pound advantage proved hard to stop as the night progressed for the Spartans.
When Tillman returned in the second half, his defense on Garza, which limited the D.C. native to 0 points in the last seven minutes, earned head coach Tom Izzo's player of the game award.
“The player of the game for me without even blinking an eyelash was Xavier Tillman because Xavier Tillman, the second half, guarded Garza almost by himself," Izzo said. "If he (Tillman) isn’t one of the best defensive players in this league I don’t know who is. That last block he had I think set a Michigan State record for most blocks (and) what a great way to do it against a hell of a player, because I think Garza is really, really, really good.”
On a late play on Garza, Tillman recorded his 147th block to name himself as MSU's all-time block leader.
“In this game, in this system you have to know how to play your role," Tillman said. "Defensively you can always do your job on that side by getting rebounds, stopping your man from scoring, or coming and getting blocks and stuff like that so I definitely wanted to make sure I did my job and I think I did that for sure.”
Garza lead the Hawkeyes with 20 points and nine rebounds on the night.
With 12 minutes remaining in the second, a jumper from the elbow by Henry jumper tied the match at 51. From there, a Winston to Tillman layup brought the lead to the Spartans side 53-51 for the first time since the early minutes.
MSU was up 63-61 with three minutes remaining until a three straight up the middle by Watts ignited the Breslin Center while securing the Spartans a lead they wouldn’t lose. Watts shot 9 for 17 overall.
The battle at the boards was taken by the Hawkeye’s 40-32, 16 of those being offensive ones. Iowa made 20 second chance points and 16 points off of rebounds, playing a major role in how they kept the game tight until the end.
Michigan State led the Hawkeyes with a 50% shooting percentage compared to Iowa's 40%.
“That was as a high of a level game as we’ve played here, physically, mentally, not having everybody on the same page, being out our best big guy against the best big guy in the country and we found a way to win," Izzo said. "Hopefully that’ll propel us to practicing harder to play a little bit better and casnt say that im not looking forward to going to Maryland because I am.”
MSU will travel to Maryland on Saturday to take on the No. 9 Terrapins at 8 p.m.