Thursday, October 1, 2020

Michigan State men's basketball's Xavier Tillman named Big Ten defensive player of the year

March 9, 2020
<p>Iowa guard Connor McCaffery (30) shoots over junior forward Xavier Tillman Sr. (23). The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes, 78-70, at the Breslin Center on Feb. 25, 2020. </p>

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery (30) shoots over junior forward Xavier Tillman Sr. (23). The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes, 78-70, at the Breslin Center on Feb. 25, 2020.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

In addition to winning the 2020 conference championship Sunday, Michigan State men's basketball (22-9, 14-6 in Big Ten) also picked up a number of individual awards Monday night.

Junior forward Xavier Tillman was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in addition to making second team All-Big Ten.

He is the fifth Spartan to be given this title, joining Jaren Jackson Jr. (2017-18), Travis Walton (2008-09), Eric Snow (1994-95) and Ken Redfield (1989-90).

During the regular season, Tillman made it almost impossible to score on him, averaging more than two blocks per game. His campaign gained steam in the past couple weeks, as he performed admirably against such threats as Penn State's Lamar Stevens, Ohio State's Kaleb Wesson and Big Ten Player of the Year, Iowa's Luka Garza.

Tillman averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 1.2 steals as a junior.

In an interview with Big Ten Network's Mike Hall, Tillman said that if he had to choose one defensive tactic that was considered his best, it would be his level of communication.

"I make it a huge point to point guys in directions, be the traffic cop for our team," Tillman said. "Getting guys over screens, telling guys to watch out for screens and just being that help-side guy for sure."

Tillman told Hall that defense is everything to MSU coach Tom Izzo. "You could have a 30-point night, but if you give up 15, 20 points, you had a terrible game," he said.

Tillman said that the toughest guy he had to guard this season was Garza, as well as Maryland sophomore Jalen Smith.

"Those two guys were two totally different games, brought a lot to the table," he said. "Both played aggressive. Both knew where to get their shots. Both knew how to draw contact and get to the free throw line. Both of them were really hard to stop for sure."

Tillman said he is proud of his team's resilience and perseverance through the many ups and downs that the season dished out.

Senior point guard Cassius Winston was named a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection for the second consecutive season, while freshman guard Rocket Watts was a member of the All-Big Ten freshman team.

Winston averaged 18.6 points and 5.9 assists this season and led the green and white into their third consecutive Big Ten regular-season title over Ohio State.

Watts shimmied his way into the starting lineup and averaged 9.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists on 38.9% field-goal shooting and 80% free-throw shooting.

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