Winston, Watts propel Spartans to Big Ten title-clinching victory


Cassius Winston and Tom Izzo/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Natalie Kerwin, Men's Basketball Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING — Sunday night was a night of celebration and emotion. Clinching a share of the Big Ten title, which was the Spartans’ third in a row, senior night for four of the Spartans, honoring Conner George, Kyle Ahrens, Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston, and to tie it all together, Michigan State pulled out an impressive 80-69 win over Ohio State.

“Coming back from where we were, the way the season was going, and what everybody was going through,” said Tom Izzo, “this has to go down as one of the great memory-making moments.”

Michigan State came out with intense energy, going on a 12-0 run after a 7-4 opening deficit. The Izzone was fired up, and the Spartans fed off of their energy. Although it was Senior Day, freshman Rocket Watts came out with back-to-back threes and seven straight points, causing Ohio State to call a timeout with 14:31 left in the first half. The Spartans were up 16-7, and continued to look sharp as their ball movement was working early.

Winston made three free throws in a row to put the Spartans up 21-10. His seven points and three assists helped lead the team by 11 with 11:56 left in the first. The Spartans were getting looks up and down the court, with 21 points in 12 minutes.

Watts banked his third 3-point shot of the night, giving him 11 points. MSU continued to lead 29-19 at 8:19 in the first half. OSU wasn’t going to take it, as the Buckeyes went on a 7-1 run to cut Michigan State’s lead to 32-26 with 3:27 to go. The Spartans weren’t attacking Ohio State’s Andre Wesson, who had two fouls and went back in with about five minutes left. 

As the minutes wound down, a great baseline fadeaway jumper from Tillman put two more up on the board to make the first half score 38-32. At that point, Winston had 12 points, Watts had 11, and Tillman had nine, which were 32 of Michigan State’s 38 first-half points.

At the start of the second half, Ohio State brought the game within two, making it 38-36, after a layup from Ohio State’s Duane Washington Jr. and a jumper from Andre Wesson. 

Winston later got a second chance 3-point jumper, giving him five straight points and 19 for the game. Watts continued to catch fire as he had 17 points and Winston had 22, helping extend the Spartans’ lead to 62-54 with a little under nine minutes left in the half. The Spartans continued with a 10-point lead. 

It was evident that Michigan State was pulling away in the last minutes. The team, including Winston, was fired up, and rightfully so as the Spartans held a 20-point lead with two minutes left to play.

This is how Senior Day was supposed to go. The Breslin was in a frenzy, Winston was firing shots left and right and the Spartan defense was demolishing the Buckeyes. With a Big Ten title on the line, the Spartans went all in.

“We’ve been battle-tested throughout the whole year. When it comes to March, you don’t know what kind of game you’re going to get, what shots are going to fall,” said Winston. “At the end of the day, you got to figure out a way to win, and I think we can find a way to win.”

The Spartans won a share of their third straight Big Ten title and will be the No. 2 seed at this weekend’s Big Ten Tournament. The tournament will take place starting Wednesday, March 11 through Sunday, March 15 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Natalie Kerwin is a men’s basketball beat reporter for Impact 89FM WDBM. Follow her on Twitter at @NatalieKerwin1.