EAST LANSING, Mich – Another stellar performance from Cassius Winston led the Spartans to an 88-60 win over the Northern Illinois Huskies, closing out non-conference play in winning fashion.
Winston (24 points) made three early 3-pointers to set the tone and get MSU out to a hot start. The contest marks the Spartans’ sixth win in a row, improving their record to 11-2. NIU was making only their second appearance against the Spartans, winning the previous matchup 76-75 in 1970 at Jenison Fieldhouse.
“Cassius understands that he has to push the ball and guard well,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said following the game. “He showed leadership in the huddle today. He is very important to this team.”
An efficient offense was the prominent force in the victory for Michigan State. The Spartans shot 29-of-57 (51%) from the floor and 14-of-29 (48%) from three in the effort. Sharing the ball well, especially in transition, was another key factor, as MSU compiled 25 assists on 29 made baskets.
Eugene German (21.0 PPG) entered the contest as NIU’s leading scorer and the Spartans’ biggest concern on the defensive side of the ball. It was Winston’s assignment to hold him down, and the junior point guard did just so, only allowing 6 first half points and limiting the explosive scorer. This garnered praise from his coach.
“German worked for every point he got,” Izzo said. “I was proud of how Cassius played on defense, he met the challenge.”
MSU went on a 14-2 run mid-way through the first half to take a 28-14 lead with 7:21 to go. Some late-half shooting woes would hamper both teams, but the Spartans continued to build the lead, holding a 43-19 advantage at the half.
The second half would tighten up, with NIU refusing to crumble while shooting 41.5% on the half. Powered by 10 points from Winston, Michigan State would still win the second 45-41. Despite the result, Montgomery was proud of how his team played until the final buzzer.
Winston had a solid performance all-around, shooting 8-of-10 for his 25 points with 7 assists as well. Much to Izzo’s pleasure, he didn’t commit a single turnover on the game, running the break well and giving a full effort.
Northern Illinois coach Mark Montgomery summed up Winston’s style of play in one short sentence.
“He does things effortlessly.”
Montgomery, a former MSU player and assistant coach, had a homecoming today, receiving a large ovation from the fans prior to the game. From 1988-1992 Montgomery took the floor as a player, turning to the coaching side of things in 2002 until 2011, when he was hired at NIU.
No game goes without Izzo critiquing his team, this time the veteran coach questioned his team’s effort, and offered his outlook heading into conference play.
“I thought we looked slow and lethargic. We didn’t punish them on the offensive glass as we should have. We have a long way to go to compete in this league.”
Two other players of note include Joshua Langford, who only played 12 minutes due to injury, and Xavier Tillman, who grabbed 13 rebounds in increased minutes off the bench. Izzo said Langford tweaked his ankle in practice, but should be good to go moving forward.
MSU will next take the floor in the new year, on Jan. 2 to be exact, against coach Chris Collins’ Northwestern Wildcats. The Cats are 8-4 on the season and 0-2 in Big Ten play.