Matt Charboneau and John Niyo on MSU in over Iowa The Detroit News
East Lansing — There was a moment in the second half on Monday night when Cassius Winston pulled up from the wing, fired a 3-pointer and got knocked down to the ground.
The shot banged off the rim, Iowa grabbed the rebound and the Hawkeyes were pushing the ball back up the court. For a brief moment, Winston sat on the ground, sweat dripping, watching everyone sprint to the other end of the floor.
It only lasted a second as Winston then forced himself up to get back in the action. A whistle came a few seconds later and Winston got a quick break.
But it was a sign of what Winston is dealing with these days as Michigan State’s point guard. With senior Matt McQuaid missing his third straight game with a thigh bruise and freshman Foster Loyer slowly adjusting to the college game, Winston is being counted on to spend most of the game on the court, rarely getting much time on the bench.
And, the concern is that the junior will get worn out.
“Cassius is the guy I'm worried about because we're kind of playing him into the ground right now, so he was tired,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I mean, him and Josh (Langford) have played a lot of minutes.”
There’s no debating that.
Entering Monday’s game — a 90-68 victory over Iowa — Winston was averaging 31 minutes a game while Langford was playing 29.8. The fact No. 10 Michigan State pulled away in the second half didn’t allow much of a reprieve for each as Winston played 30 minutes and Langford logged 31.
It was the fourth straight game of 30 minutes or more for both and sixth overall for Winston.
“We’ve been playing a lot of games in a little amount of time, so you know that wears,” Winston said. “But other than that, I’m gonna be ready for each game and play as hard as I can. They do a good job of getting me out in TV timeouts and stuff like that.”
The Spartans (7-2, 2-0 Big Ten) just completed five games in 11 days, with only Monday’s victory played at home. That, alone, is a tough enough grind. But for Winston, who is the heartbeat of Michigan State’s offense, it’s probably the toughest.
He has handled it well, for the most part. Winston is second to Langford in scoring for the Spartans at 16.8 points a game while his 7.7 assists a game are best in the Big Ten. He’s started to cut down on the turnovers that were an issue early in the season, committing just four over the last three games.
And his 3-point shooting, while down a touch — perhaps because of fatigue — is still at 42.9 percent.
It’s all been a work in progress for Winston.
“You just learn how to be smarter,” Winston said. “Sometimes I gotta switch off a guy for two minutes if he’s involved in a lot of action in the offense and give him to somebody else and then maybe just take a play off. Just things like that — just learning how to get your little rest. You’re learning from being out there.”
Michigan State finally got a break on Tuesday with an off day. But the Spartans have another road game to prepare for when they travel to Florida on Saturday for a noon tip-off. After that, Michigan State will have only three games the rest of December.
It will provide a much-needed break for Winston, who doesn’t plan on holding back when he’s on the court.
“Nah, can’t do that,” he said. “If you play like that you’re not giving them your best self.”