Spartans grab conference lead with rivalry win over Michigan


Cassius Winston/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — 19 second-half points from Cassius Winston were the difference for Michigan State on Sunday, as the Spartans snuck out of a maize-clad Crisler Center with a 77-70 victory. This game was always about Winston after his struggles against Michigan in his first two years in East Lansing. He responded in a big way, leading all scorers with 27 points in perhaps his signature performance to date.

“He played a consummate game,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said. “When he had a drive, he drove. When he had to get fouled, he got fouled.”

Michigan was eventually undone by solid Spartan defense, as the Wolverines shot just 36 percent from the field in the second half. MSU executed their offense just well enough down the stretch despite not making a shot from the field in the last 3:39.

With the unenviable matchup of defensive dynamo Zavier Simpson on the offensive end, Winston managed to do just enough to win his team the game. Winston scored his 27 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go along with 8 assists. Neither Winston nor Simpson came off the court for the entirety of the 40 minutes.

“This to me, was one of the great team efforts,” Izzo said. “We listened, paid attention, we had a lot of guys that did pretty good.”

Michigan center Jon Teske wasted no time making an impact early, grabbing two offensive rebounds on the Wolverines’ first few possessions and drawing a trio of MSU fouls in the process. Goins hit two of his first three 3-pointers to put MSU up 20-17 at the 11:39 mark, as MSU took the lead without Teske on the floor.

Once Teske came back in, MSU continued to hit shots in one of their best starts to a game in conference play. Winston drove along the baseline for a layup before finding Goins for another 3-pointer to make give MSU a 27-20 lead.

From there, Simpson and Brazdeikis hit 3-pointers on both sides of a Jordan Poole layup to spark an 8-0 run that handed Michigan the lead back, and the teams traded baskets until halftime. An Ignas Brazdeikis layup with a minute left in the half made it 39-37 MSU after 20 minutes. Goins led all scorers with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting at the break as the Spartans hit 56 percent of their shots.

Out of halftime, Winston had MSU’s first six points, but Michigan started to get downhill and attack near the rim. Poole notched an and-one before Brazdeikis drove baseline and dunked to put Michigan up 51-45 just a handful of minutes into the half.

Still, MSU would not go away, as has been often the case on the road this season. As MSU continued to probe offensively, layups from Xavier Tillman and Thomas Kithier cut the Michigan lead back to two. Three McQuaid free throws gave MSU the lead back, and from there the two teams continued to trade baskets.

Nearly every time either team had a chance to stretch their lead out to multiple possessions, they’d start to miss shots. MSU allowed the Wolverines to run their offense through Simpson, as the 29-percent 3-point shooter made just two of his seven attempts, although he and Brazdeikis led the way for Michigan with 19 and 16 points respectively.

With 5 minutes left, Winston and Tillman began to take the game into their hands thanks to pick-and-roll offense. Winston got down the middle of the lane for a layup that put MSU up 62-55. After a Teske layup, Tillman slipped a screen and Goins found him open under the basket for a two-handed flush to maintain the lead.

“It’s amazing,” Winston said. “We knew it was going to be a big game, a tough game and we’re both playing for a championship. Each game counts, and now that we’re a step ahead we have to keep looking forward.”

A McQuaid midrange jumper stretched the lead back to eight, and despite a Brazdeikis layup, MSU held their lead for the final three minutes as Michigan missed 10 of their last 14 shots. Nine Winston free throws plus another from McQuaid were enough to seal the game. The MSU win snaps a 22-game home winning streak for Michigan. 

Goins finished with 16 points, one of four Spartans in double figures. McQuaid added 13 on 3-of-8 shooting, and Tillman ended with 14 points.

The path to a repeat Big Ten title is not straightforward – the Wolverines still come to the Breslin for a regular-season finale on March 9 – but this was a statement of intent. If MSU goes on to claim at least another share of a conference championship, this result will be the reason why.