Friday, April 10, 2020

Winston gets his moment, Michigan State men's basketball earns share of Big Ten

March 8, 2020
<p>Freshman guard Rocket Watts (2) passes the ball during a game against Ohio State.</p>

Freshman guard Rocket Watts (2) passes the ball during a game against Ohio State.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

No. 16 MSU (22-9, 14-6 in the Big Ten) earned a share of the Big Ten title for the third consecutive year with a 80-69 victory over No. 19 Ohio State (21-10, 11-9) Sunday at the Breslin Center.


"It's not easy to win one, but what's really difficult is to sustain some kind of excellence of championship-level play and you know, it's an honor to win it with Maryland and Wisconsin," Izzo said postgame.

On his senior day, senior guard Cassius Winston kicked off the scoring with an up-and-under layup. He finished with 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting. 

Redshirt senior forward Kyle Ahrens also earned a start in his final game at the Breslin Center. He would get his moment, too. With 23 seconds remaining, and leading 80-65, Izzo motioned at Winston to foul. Ahrens kissed the court. Senior guard Conner George did too. Then, freshman guard Steven Izzo called No. 5 off, as he saluted the home crowd for the final time before kissing the Spartan head.

"I wanted Cassius (Winston) to enjoy every second he could be on that court," Izzo said.

Sophomore forward Aaron Henry started the contest much like he did in last Saturday against Maryland, following his first miss for the rebound and easy basket. Henry showed a promising drive for MSU, asserting himself after a tough start shooting, making running jumpers and spin move finishes for 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

Down 7-4, MSU quickly took over the majority of the first half, going on a 9-0 run concluded by a signature Spire jab and step-back three-pointer from freshman guard Rocket Watts.

The Spartans led by as many as 12 with just over six to play in the first half, but OSU would counter. Ohio State’s Duane Washington Jr. hit a three to cut it to 32-24. C.J. Walker added a two. 

With 3:27 to play in the first, MSU was one for its last eight shot attempts. OSU rode an 11-4 run to cut it to 36-32 before Junior forward Xavier Tillman beat the buzzer on a baseline two. MSU would take a 38-32 lead into halftime. Tillman finished with 15 points on 9 rebounds 

OSU would knot the score at 44 in the second half’s early minutes on a pair of Kaleb Wesson free throws but would fail to retake the lead they last held at 7-6.

E.J. Liddell hit a three to cut the Spartans’ lead to four, before Winston took over the game with the following sequence, responding to OSU’s run with three. Luther Muhhamad would make a quick two on the ensuing possession, but Winston hit Watts with a perfect cross-court skip pass. The freshman finished the three through the foul and could not have done so if Winston’s feed wasn’t right in his chest. 


"That's just playing with a great point guard," Watts said. "He's been here for long period of time and he knows the spots on the floor and throughout the play, I knew it was coming to me."

MSU would ride comfortably into the ceremonial final minutes for a share of the title.

The Spartans earned the No. 2 seed in this weekend’s Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

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