Michigan State beats Michigan, clinches share of Big Ten title in 'picture perfect' regular-season finale
East Lansing — It was halftime Saturday night, and in the Michigan State locker room, Tom Izzo was contemplating having Nick Ward suit up and play the second half.
That’s how perplexed the Spartans coach was about what transpired in the first 20 minutes against Michigan. His injured junior center wanted to get out on the court, but Izzo didn’t cave, insisting it was wise to keep his big man out until next week’s conference tournament.
Instead, Izzo challenged his players.
“I said at halftime, we had a character check,” Izzo said. “And the character check was are we gonna play for a championship in our own house and not play with the same energy we practiced with?”
The players took that heart, namely Cassius Winston.
The junior guard shook off a tough shooting night to score 23 while sparking a 25-4 second-half run to lead No. 9 Michigan State to a 75-63 victory over No. 7 Michigan at the Breslin Center. The win earned Michigan State (25-6, 16-4 Big Ten) a share of the conference title with Purdue and locked up the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament in Chicago.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Izzo said. “I really am. At halftime, I wasn’t proud of them because I didn’t think we did the things we needed to do to win a big game like this and we have to figure out why.
“But for tonight and tomorrow, I don’t even care why. I’m gonna enjoy this one like I haven’t enjoyed many.”
Izzo was feeling like that because this game “checked all the boxes.” It clinched his ninth conference championship, gave his team the top seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament and, as a bonus, completed the season sweep over Michigan on Senior Night.
“It is kind of picture perfect,” Kenny Goins said after his final home game. “We have been through hell and back and we pulled out the trifecta with Michigan, the championship and senior night. It doesn't get any better than this.”
Winston added seven assists for the Spartans while Xavier Tillman scored 17 and Goins had nine points and 16 rebounds. It was quite the turnaround for Winston, who was 1-for-5 shooting in the first half and had committed a pair of turnovers.
But when is 3-pointer went in off the glass to give Michigan State its first lead at 53-50, he knew things were turning around.
“I saw that and thought it must be my day or something,” Winston said. “It wasn’t my day at first, but I hit that and knew something was up. It was a little boost.
“That’s what I do for this team, just make plays. I knew the first half I wasn’t myself for this team. The second half I was confident, a lot more aggressive.”
For Michigan (26-5, 15-5) it was a crushing defeat that left the Wolverines a game out of first place. Michigan controlled the game early, but when Michigan State started its decisive surge in the second half, the Wolverines had no answer.
Ignas Brazdeikis scored 20 for the Wolverines, but he fouled out with 5:10 left in the game. Jordan Poole added 15 for Michigan
“I think we imploded a little bit on a couple occasions where they just blocked a couple shots during that time and that was huge,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “And then we missed some shots, we even had a couple air balls and that's real tough for us.”
It was all Michigan for the better part of the first half as the Wolverines made seven of their first nine shots and were 10-for-15 to build a nine-point lead midway through the half. That advantage grew to 35-23 with just more than three minutes to play in the half before Michigan State started to show some life.
The Spartans got a dunk from Thomas Kithier, a drive and layup from Kyle Ahrens in transition and a Tillman dunk to cut the deficit to 35-29 headed to halftime.
“Similar story to before, a great basketball game for 30 minutes or so and then we weren't able to do much in the second half,” Beilein said. “We just weren't very good and Michigan State, congratulate them on winning a piece of that championship.”
Michigan State built off the late first-half energy in the second, slowly chipping away at Michigan’s advantage. After a Brazdeikis 3 gave the Wolverines a 48-40 lead, the Spartans went on a 10-2 surge to tie the game at 50 on a pair of free throws from Tillman with 10:47 to play
The run got to 19-4 as Winston continued to take over, scoring on a drive and layup to give Michigan State a 59-52 lead with 7:55 to play. The lead continued to grow as the surge reached 25-4 after a Winston runner gave Michigan State a 65-52 lead and finally came to an end with two free throws from Brazdeikis.
The Wolverines got within 10 late in the half but couldn’t get any closer as the Spartans completed the season sweep of their rival thanks to the huge second half.
“They just capitalized on our mistakes and we made a lot of them in the first half,” Goins said. “We came into the locker room and said that this team is better than this. We played the worst half of basketball ever and are down six. If we get back to playing our game, there is no way that they can stay in it with us and that is all we did in the second half. We played the game that we have been playing all year.”
That game helped raise another banner, made even sweeter because of who was on the other bench.
“We knew it was win or go home for the Big Ten Championship,” senior Matt McQuaid said. “So we had to do the things we needed to do to get it done and got the win.”