Unusual suspects steal a win for Spartans

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Unusual suspects steal a win for Spartans

Cassius Winston and Tom Izzo/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Cassius Winston and Tom Izzo/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Cassius Winston and Tom Izzo/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Cassius Winston and Tom Izzo/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Trent Balley, Sports Editor

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Tight wins, blowout wins, lucky wins… a win is a win. And the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans pulled out a close one over the No. 12 Seton Hall Pirates on the road, winning 76-73.

None of the usual suspects played exceptionally well for coach Tom Izzo. Senior point guard Cassius Winston scored 21 points but shot only 35% from the floor and had just as many turnovers as assists. Junior forward Xavier Tillman scored only three points, making one bucket in nine tries. 

The best player on the floor all night was Myles Powell, who despite being questionable before the contest with a lingering ankle injury, dropped 37 points including half a dozen made 3-pointers.

Cassius Winston/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

But the Spartans kept it together, and turned a five-point deficit with 2:43 remaining in the second half into a gutsy win. Should we expect anything less from a Tom Izzo coached team?

Big shots and big plays in key moments was a motif for the Spartans. Freshman guard Rocket Watts hit an incredibly clutch 3-pointer to cut the Pirates lead to just two with 1:49 to play, assisted by Winston. And about 40 seconds later, Watts returned the favor.

Watts grabbed a Powell miss off the iron and took off on what looked to be a coast-to-coast trip. It wasn’t until he crossed the free throw line that he whipped the ball back to Winston, who nailed the deep ball. All of the sudden, the Spartans found themselves leading by a point thanks to a 6-0 run by their starting backcourt.

Foster Loyer/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

With 44 seconds to play, Powell drove the lane and drew enough contact for a trip to the foul line. After sinking both, Izzo and the Spartans had a chance to take the lead with only a few scarce seconds left.

Winston drew a double team at the top of the arc and threaded the needle to Tillman at the elbow, who found the unsuspected freshman forward Malik Hall for the go-ahead layup with 25 seconds on the clock. A pair of nice defensive stops for the Spartans, including a strip-steal from Hall with under five seconds left sealed the deal.

Despite uncharacteristic games from its cornerstones, Izzo’s squad prevailed in the end thanks to some unsung heroes stepping up to the plate. 

Xavier Tillman/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Backup sophomore point guard Foster Loyer gave Izzo seven quality minutes in the first half, scoring five points with an assist and a steal as well. When Winston is sitting due to foul trouble, as he was during this time, that kind of depth is what it takes to win.

But the player of the game, with all things considered, was undoubtedly Hall. A career-high 17 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting night from the floor (3-for-3 from deep), five rebounds and the game-winning bucket were all incredibly essential to the road victory. 

In the end, it was the Spartans’ depth and cold-bloodedness that overcame Powell’s 37-point performance and the Pirates’ athletic onslaught.

Tom Izzo/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

The Spartans will look to clean up the rough spots as they host the Charleston Southern Buccaneers at the Breslin Center on Monday.

Contact Trent Balley at balleytr@msu.edu. Follow him on Twitter @tbal91.