Sole owners! Spartans win Big Ten title outright
Madison, Wis. — As Michigan State headed to Wisconsin for its final regular-season game on Sunday afternoon, the turmoil around the program was swirling once again.
For a program that has already been dealing with the fallout from a recent report that suggested the basketball and football teams have improperly handled cases of sexual assault over the years, Friday brought the latest issue — Miles Bridges name, more specifically his mother’s, was included in a report from Yahoo Sports on the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball.
It suddenly threw into question the sophomore’s eligibility and for a team looking to win its first outright Big Ten championship since 2009, the timing couldn’t have been much worse.
But, much like they have for the last five-plus weeks, the Spartans did enough to brush aside all the off-court issues and get it done on the court.
It was far from perfect, but it was a workmanlike afternoon that was once again highlighted Cassius Winston as Michigan State won for the 12th straight time, beating Wisconsin, 68-63. It was the first win at the Kohl Center for the Spartans since 2013 and it was the first time they’ve won 16 conference games in a season.
“It’s crazy, but that’s the year that we’ve been through,” Winston said after the game. “It’s been pretty hectic a lot of days. But we do a good job of just staying in our circle, staying together and staying within each other.”
It was especially important on Sunday as a 10-point lead disappeared before Winston took over in the second half and led the second-ranked Spartans, who locked up the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York. Michigan State will play at noon Friday against the winner of Thursday’s game between the No. 8 Maryland and No. 9 Wisconsin.
Winston finished with 20 points for Michigan State (28-3, 16-2 Big Ten) and was 6-for-6 from 3-point range. Nick Ward added 14 points while Jaren Jackson Jr. overcame some poor shooting to score 11, including four free throws and a 3-pointer in the final minutes. Bridges was just 3-for-15 shooting and finished with 10 points, making four free throws in the final 40 seconds.
“Unbelievable day for us,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I feel like with everything we've been through, these guys showed some incredible mental toughness and persevered through. I thought there was some championship DNA in there the way they handled things when we were up by 10 and then down by two. I thought we made some big plays.
“Yeah, it is a little harder. It’s been kind of an incredible month, or five weeks, and I hope things will work out so that we’ll see how that goes. But the emotion in the locker room is still one of great happiness and joy. I just think we’re a little mentally worn down from all the things they been through. But that’s a happy locker room and a well deserving for those kids for what they’ve done.”
Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11), which entered Sunday on a three-game winning streak that included a victory over Purdue, nearly pulled off another upset thanks to a career-high 30 points from Brad Davison. Ethan Happ added 13 points for the Badgers but was just 6-for-17 shooting.
“We had the 10-point lead and they came back, so I give them credit,” Izzo said. “Davison had incredible shots in that stretch. That kid's a good player. He's going to be a really good player in the next couple of years and even down the stretch this year.”
Michigan State came out hitting on all cylinders, scoring the first eight points of the game to gain an early advantage. However, Wisconsin battled back and tied the game at 11 with 12:39 left in the first half.
The Spartans responded, however, and a 9-2 run later in the half pushed the advantage to 26-17 with 7:18 to play after the first of three 3-pointers from Winston. Minutes later, Winston hit back-to-back triples to give the Spartans a 32-22 lead with 3:35 left
That was the last field goal of the half for Michigan State, which only got two more free throws from Ward the rest of the way to take a 34-27 lead into halftime.
Wisconsin was the aggressor to open the second half, chipping away at the Michigan State lead behind huge shots from Davison. He scored eight straight at one point and when Happ converted on a layup with 9:54 to play, the Badgers had their first lead at 47-45.
But that’s when Winston started to take over, hitting a pair of 3s over the next two-plus minutes while Bridges hit a mid-range jumper and Jackson made his first 3-pointer as Michigan State took a 58-51 lead with 4:44 left in the game.
Wisconsin kept the pressure on, but a hook in the lane from Bridges made it a four-point game with three minutes to play and the Spartans put the game away from the free-throw line.
“It’s great when you set goals then go out and accomplish them,” Winston said. “(Winning outright) was one thing we set at the beginning of the season and we worked every day and fought for it. Once you get that taste of winning and accomplishing that you just want more.”
Michigan State vs. Maryland/Wisconsin
Tip-off: Noon Friday, Madison Square Garden, New York
TV/radio: BTN/760 AM
Records: Michigan State 28-3, 16-2 Big Ten; Maryland 19-12, 8-10; Wisconsin 14-17, 7-11
Outlook: The Spartans swept both the Badgers and the Terrapins this season, including Sunday’s 68-63 triumph in Madison to wrap up the Big Ten regular-season title.
BIG TEN TOURNAMENT
At New York
All games on BTN unless noted.
■No. 12 Iowa vs. No. 13 Illinois, 5:30 p.m.
■No. 11 Minnesota vs. No. 14 Rutgers, 8 p.m.
■No. 8 Maryland vs. No. 9 Wisconsin, noon
■No. 5 Michigan vs. Iowa/Illinois winner, 2:30 p.m.
■No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 10 Northwestern, 6:30 p.m.
■No. 6 Indiana vs. Minnesota/Rutgers winner, 9 p.m.
■No. 1 Michigan State vs. Maryland/Wisconsin winner, noon
■No. 4 Nebraska vs. Michigan/Iowa/Illinois winner, 2:30 p.m.
■No. 2 Ohio State vs. Penn State/Northwestern winner, 6:30 p.m.
■No. 3 Purdue vs. Indiana/Minnesota/Rutgers winner, 9 p.m.
■Michigan State/Maryland/Wisconsin winner vs. Nebraska/Michigan/Iowa/Illinois winner, 2 p.m. (CBS)
■Ohio State/Penn State/Northwestern winner vs. Purdue/Indiana/Minnesota/Rutgers winner, 4:30 p.m. (CBS)
■Championship, 4:30 p.m. (CBS)