In an emotional Senior Day in Lansing, the Spartans of Michigan State were led by their seniors and one of the greatest to wear the green and white under Tom Izzo, Cassius Winston, to a very strong 80-69 win over the Buckeyes of Ohio State.
The Spartans jumped out quickly in the electric atmosphere and when Rocket Watts banked in a three from the top of the key, Coach Chris Holtmann had about as much as he could stand and called a timeout with 14:31 to go in the first half with the Spartans holding a 16-7 lead.
The lead expanded to 29-19 Spartans with a little over six minutes to go before the Buckeyes began to make a push and began to chip away at the lead and cut the lead to six points with just over a minute to go.
Holding just a four point lead, the Spartans faced a Buckeye zone having the ball and the last possession before the half. While it looked as though State was going to struggle to find a shot, Xavier Tillman stepped back and drained a shot from the right short corner as the buzzer sounded giving Michigan State a six point lead going into the half.
After the half, the Buckeyes made another push at the Spartans by cutting the lead down even further to two with just over 18 minutes left. But on a day that would be his final home game, Cassius Winston stepped up and made big shot after big shot for the Spartans. Even at times when he faced strong Buckeye double teams, he found ways to make his teammates better and productive. Off a baseline out of bounds play with just over 13 minutes left in the game, Winston’s teammates found him for an open three off a great screen and from there the Buckeyes would get no closer.
At just over 7 minutes left in the game, the Spartans led by 10 and the stat line for Cassius Winston read 22 points and 6 assists. But Winston wasn’t alone. While Winston finished the game with 27 points, Rocket Watts finished with 19, Xavier Tillman finished with 15 and Aaron Henry finished with 12. While Winston also finished with four rebounds and six assists, Tillman also ended his night with nine rebounds and five assists.
With five minutes left in the game, the Spartans enjoyed nothing less than a party atmosphere on Senior Day as they ballooned the lead to sixteen.
In a classy move by Coach Tom Izzo, he let his Senior Spartans exit the floor one at a time to the roars and ovations of the many Spartan faithful. As they left the floor, the seniors hugged their teammates…. they went and kissed the center court for the last time and then went and gave their tearful coach one last long hug.
Why would Tom Izzo be tearful? Besides having these guys as close as sons for four years, this is the production being lost by this Spartan senior group:
Cassius Winston leaves the program with the most assists in Big Ten history;
Joshua Langford had 75 starts as a Spartan and scored 847 points;
Kyle Athens, who may have only had 12 starts in his career, played his role on the team and made it worthwhile scoring 355 points;
Last but not least, you have Connor George who finished his Spartan career playing his role and finished his Spartan career scoring 37 points and racking in 55 rebounds.
I think that may be the most telling thing about this Spartan team and the most amazing thing about a Tom Izzo coached team…. the player, above all else, love playing their role for the greater good of the team and for that they take part in the success of all.
The Big Ten Tournament isn’t far away and if the Buckeyes continue to win in the tournament then they will set up a quick rematch with the Spartans in a Big Ten quarterfinal on Friday.
What kind of run could the Big Ten make in the NCAA tournament? For the first time ever, they had 8 teams ranked this week in the AP Top 25. That is the most ever.
The Big Ten is also projected to have around 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament in about two weeks time.
What did this win mean for the Spartans today? With the win they clinched a share of the Big Ten regular season championship with Wisconsin and the Terrapins of Maryland.
It was a great day to celebrate in Lansing today.
Who knows. We may see more celebrations come the first weekend in April with the Spartans or about nine other teams from the Big Ten in the Final Four.