Winston’s career game powers Spartans past Michigan


Cassius Winston/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Henry Menigoz, General Assignment Reporter

EAST LANSING – When it comes to rivalry games, there are few more bitter than the ones between Michigan State and the University of Michigan. The lights seem to be a little bit brighter here, and when those lights come on it’s easy for some players to fade into the background. Some stars however, shine brighter than ever before. This afternoon, that stars name was Cassius Winston. 

Winston would finish with 32 points against the division rivals, en route to a 87-69 Michigan State victory over the Wolverines. 

The No. 14-ranked Michigan Wolverines (10-4, 1-2 Big Ten) came into this contest riding a two-game win streak. After an uncertain postseason, the Wolverines emerged early on during coach Juwan Howard’s debut season as a conference contender and a threat to the preseason favorite Michigan State. And after falling three times last year to coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans, the stage was well set for these two teams to meet in East Lansing. But they would have to do it without second leading scorer Isaiah Livers. 

There wasn’t an empty seat in the Breslin Center, as both teams came out of the gate hot to start the game. Cassius Winston hit a midrange pull-up jumper on the first possession to open up the scoring of the contest. 

Michigan would quickly answer on the other end, as Jon Teske took the ball in the post and finished with a strong move. This strong post presence would be a recurring theme for Teske throughout the rest of the contest. 

Then Xavier Tillman would respond by hitting his first two shots of the game; a three at the top of the key followed by a tip-in off of a missed layup for two more, giving the Spartans an early 7-4 lead. 

The Spartans were aided early on by encouraging performances from their role players. Coming off of a monster 12-rebound, 5-block night against Illinois, sophomore Marcus Bingham Jr. again showcased his improvement as he went toe to toe with 7-1 senior Jon Teske throughout the game. Bingham Jr. would finish the night with five points and six boards. 

Both senior Kyle Ahrens and sophomore Gabe Brown would contribute key plays as well. Ahrens would hit a 3-pointer off a wild pass as the clock neared the eleven minute mark, before Brown would follow with a three of his own on the next possession. A huge block and defensive bound by Brown on the other end would then lead to another Cassius Winston jumper, putting the Spartans up 28-21. 

Winston was awarded free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt. He would convert all three free throws before taking the ball coast to coast for two more on the next possession. A midrange jumper over the hand of Zavier Simpson would give him nine points through seven minutes of play. 

“There’s a reason why he’s a preseason John Wooden finalist,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “You just don’t hand those out.”

Michigan continually forced MSU mistakes throughout the first half, resulting in many second-chance opportunities for the Wolverines. With 7:30 remaining in the half, Simpson caused a steal off of his own miss, with Franz Wagner recovering the loose ball and knocking down a three. 

“Everytime we got a rebound, [Zavier] Simpson, who is phenomenal at it, knocked balls loose,” coach Izzo said. “That was frustrating.”

Then on the very next possession, Simpson again stole the ball off of an MSU rebound, this time putting up the layup himself to improve the UM deficit to 32-26.

Winston, however, would continue with his stellar first half performance and answer immediately with a circus reverse layup on the other end. He finished with 16 points in the first half, and helped to send the Spartans into the locker room with a comfortable 44-34 lead. 

Second half play would again start with a bang, as Tillman opened up with an easy two under the basket. He would finish with a monster stat line of his own, recording 20 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. 

On the other end, Simpson and Teske connected for a successful pick and roll, before Winston and Tillman converted on a pick and roll of their own, finished by an emphatic Tillman dunk. 

Still within the opening minutes of the second half, Winston and Simpson would each trade contested 3-pointers, before Winston got the better end of the exchange by finishing with yet another big three on the ensuing possession. The crowd responded with a deafening roar, before being quieted by a Teske post finish on the other end. 

This fast-paced scoring streak would continue with a Simpson sky hook for Michigan, cutting the lead to 60-49 in favor of MSU. Simpson would finish the game with 14 points and 8 assists. 

Things began to get chippy as both teams received technical fouls in a span of a few minutes. The crowd energy was heating up at this point as well, and erupted to new heights with a Tillman block near the 12 minute mark. 

The Wolverines would try to get something going throughout the remaining minutes of the match, but to no avail. With six minutes left in the game, Cassius Winston stole the ball from Teske out of the post and brought it down for the score. This brought the Spartans lead up to 12 and took all of the life out of the Michigan team. 

Freshman Rocket Watts would knock down two threes before Cassius Winston capped off his 32-point nine-assist night with a couple of free throws, adding further insult to injury as Michigan State would walk away with a 87-69 victory, the fourth straight in their run-ins against the in-state rivals. 

“Our team is solid. In the game of basketball, it’s unfortunate, and sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce for you. And times you’re going to have those stretches where you make mistakes on the floor,” Howard said after the game.

“We get a chance to play them again, in our building. We look forward to it, whenever that time comes, but we take it one game at a time.”

“I’ve been on both sides of this thing,” coach Izzo said. “It is a consistent rivalry where both teams are going to compete.”

Michigan will now go on to host Purdue, as the Spartans (12-3, 4-0 Big Ten) prepare to host Minnesota on Thursday. You can catch tipoff at 9 p.m. on ESPN and Impact WDBM.