In MSU coach Tom Izzo’s words, it was a “miserable” first half for senior guard Cassius Winston in Michigan State men’s basketball’s 78-70 victory over Iowa Tuesday night. But in the second half, fans saw a Winston they hadn’t seen in a while.
It was a Winston that came out hot, opening the half with a three and later draining 11 straight points for the Spartans. It was a Winston that did what Izzo described as “what true champions are supposed to do.”
“The second half was the first time in my mind he (Winston) looked like back at the Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota games earlier in the year, he had some pizazz to him,” Izzo said. “He did some things. He made some great plays. He made some shots, played better defense.”
Trailing 33-27 to the Hawkeyes at the half, the Spartans found a way to bring the game back in their hands and recorded their first win after suffering a first half deficit this season.
The comeback came largely in part to the halftime talk that set the dwindling season all into perspective for the Spartans.
“We talked at halftime and said, if things don’t change we’ll have a nice little season and win a few games and call it a day,” Izzo said. “That’s about the way the halftime speech went.”
And with three games left before tournament season, the Spartans put on a second half performance that made it look like they finally connected the missing puzzle pieces.
In the first half, the Spartans shot 41.1% overall and went 1-9 from three.
Winston struggled in the first and junior forward Xavier Tillman sat the majority of the half due to early foul trouble. These factors forced the Spartans to prove the depth on their roster as players like freshman guard Rocket Watts and sophomore forward Aaron Henry picked up the missing pieces.
“We said we’re not going to win no games playing like that, that’s the bottom line,” Winston said of the team’s halftime discussion. “The best players gotta play if you want to win, especially big games … (They have to) challenge us to go out there and be better for our team and make some things happen.”
In the second, however, things improved all across the board, with the Spartans shooting 60% overall and draining 6-of-11 from deep.
But the halftime reality check did more than just secure the Spartans a win Tuesday night, it propelled their team into a new mindset that they’ll need as they enter the final games of their season. It was a performance so exciting to Izzo that he joked he would sleep at the Breslin Center because of it.
“Now we put ourselves in a position where we get to do like an NCAA tournament where you have to work all night,” Izzo said. “Kind of looking forward (to Maryland). (ESPN College) Gamedays out there, 16,000 people, and it'll be just us. We're going to have to be really connected and I'm really looking forward to it.”