East Lansing — Michigan State needed a big basket in the second half Thursday against Notre Dame, and once again, sophomore Cassius Winston was the one who delivered.
As the Spartans guard did over the weekend in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, he delivered once again in No. 3 Michigan State’s 81-63 victory over No. 5 Notre Dame at the Breslin Center.
With the Fighting Irish whittling down the Spartans’ lead, Winston nailed three 3-pointers in a three-and-a-half minute stretch to push Michigan State’s lead back to 18 points and put the game away.
“I think I did pretty good in some stretches,” said Winston, who scored 17 points and handed out seven assists. “I had a little stretch there where I didn’t have enough energy, enough intensity, but for the most part I had a pretty good game.”
It’s starting to become the norm for Winston, who was named the MVP of the Victory Bracket at the PK80 Invitational. He scored a career-high 28 points in a semifinal win over UConn and followed that with seven points, seven assists and five rebounds in the championship victory over North Carolina.
But much like Thursday against Notre Dame, it wasn’t necessarily the offense that stood out. Instead, it was something Winston has put tons of work into since last season – his defense.
“If I don’t play defense, I can’t be on the floor,” Winston said after the win over UConn.
He proved he could play defense in the North Carolina game, holding the Tar Heels’ Joel Berry to seven points on 2-for-11 shooting. And on Thursday, it was Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell that was Winston’s main focus.
The Notre Dame senior entered the game averaging 17.5 points a game and was shooting 42.9 percent (18-for-42) from 3-point range. Against the Spartans, Farrell was held to 10 points, his lowest output of the season.
“There were a couple of stretches where he got a little sloppy on some things, turned the ball over for a layup and got a little casual, but there’s getting to be less of those moments,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of Winston. “What he deserves a lot of credit for, and this is what I told him before the game started, the big matchup of course was gonna be on (Bonzi) Colson and Farrell and Cassius spent the whole summer here. He didn’t go home when everybody else went home. (He) lifted, (he) ran, (he) ran, (he) worked, (he) did it all for this. So, we were thinking about putting someone else on him but we said no, we’re gonna put Cassius on him and god bless him, he did a damn good job.”
It’s been a work in progress for Winston. His defensive issues kept him off the floor for at times as a freshman, so he’s worked hard to overcome some of his shortcomings.
“It’s just finding my spots,” Winston said. “I’m never gonna be the quickest guy out there, never gonna be the strongest guy out there, but if I’m in the right positon at the right time it helps with containing guys. That’s the big thing they focused on. If I can contain guys I can be on the floor and I can be what I need to be for this team.”
Michigan State's Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston and Josh Langford met the media Thursday following an 81-63 victory over Notre Dame at Breslin Center in East Lansing. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
MCQUAID PLAYS THROUGH PAIN
Junior guard Matt McQuaid played 22 minutes as he continued to fight through a sprained arch in his right foot. He finished with nine points as he is trying to get used to wearing an insole in his shoe to help alleviate some of the pain.
“I’m just trying to get comfortable in it,” McQuaid said. “I felt fine out there, running and everything. I felt good.”
McQuaid understands at this point there isn’t much that can be done, he just needs to get used to dealing with some pain during games.
“I’ve just got to push through it,” he said. “There will be a little pain, but that’s not gonna stop me from practicing or playing. It’s not like that.”
Michigan State junior Kenny Goins played four minutes in the first half. He missed the previous four games after aggravating a left knee injury in practice following the Duke game in the Champions Classic.
… The 18-point victory over No. 5 Notre Dame was Michigan State’s largest over a top-five team since Feb. 12, 2013, a 75-52 win over No. 4 Michigan.
… After three games in four days at the PK80 Invitational, Thursday’s game began a stretch of three games in six days for Michigan State. After taking on the Fighting Irish, the Spartans begin Big Ten play at home against Nebraska on Sunday and travel to Rutgers on Tuesday.
… Michigan State is now 8-10 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.