'I was feeling it': Foster Loyer stars in MSU triumph as toe injury slows Cassius Winston
Chicago – The T-shirts in the locker room and the signs in the stands spelled it out – 600.
That was the level Michigan State coach Tom Izzo reached on Friday, earning victory No. 600 on a day the Spartans knocked off Ohio State to advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament.
They did it with Cassius Winston slowed by a sprained toe, Kenny Goins suddenly missing 3-poitners and Nick Ward playing for the first time in almost four weeks.
It wasn’t exactly the formula for the top-seeded Spartans to advance. Fortunately for No. 6 Michigan State, Foster Loyer came through to score a career-high 14 points to lead the Spartans to a 77-70 victory at the United Center.
“It was a special feeling,” said Loyer, who also played a career-most 18 minutes. “When that first one went through, it was a little bit of a weight lifted off my shoulders. But I’m always gonna be confident in myself. And as the next one went in, I was feeling it a little bit.”
Loyer made his first four 3-pointers and finished 5-for-7 from long range while adding three assists.
“He’s been through a lot of stuff this year and a lot of struggles,” Winston said of his backup. “To come out and get his number called and play like that shows a lot of toughness right there.
“I was geeked. If you saw me I was going crazy for him. I know what that feels like, to get your rhythm and how that feels, so I was happy for him.”
Winston fought through the sore toe he first hurt last week against Michigan and played well in the second half, scoring 18 points while grabbing seven rebounds and handing out five assists. Matt McQuaid added 12 points for the Spartans while Nick Ward had eight in his return to the lineup after missing five games with a broken hand.
It all added up to win No. 600 for Izzo, who is in his 24th season, while also sending top-seeded Michigan State (26-6) to the semifinals, where it will face Wisconsin at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Badgers held off a late rally to beat Nebraska, 66-62, in the second quarterfinal.
“It means good things; you're getting old, and you're 600 shy of Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim,” Izzo said of the milestone. “It keeps you humble, and it makes you realize you haven't accomplished that much yet.
“I give Ohio State a lot of credit. … But we found a way, and the name of this game is to find a way.”
Michigan State got 24 points off the bench, the second-most it has had in Big Ten play this season. Loyer led the way along with Ward’s eight points and two from Thomas Kithier.
“That’s been the story all year,” said Goins, who was just 3-for-9 from the field. “Certain people step up at different moments. Today Foster kept us afloat. Once guys got in a groove and started to play their game, that’s when we took the big lead. Even going into the half up six, we did not have a good half. The play from Foster propelled us to get that lead at half.”
That lead came even after Ohio State came out firing early in the game.
The Buckeyes were loose after playing on Thursday and jumped on the Spartans early, taking a 15-11 lead after a 3-pointer from C.J. Jackson. That’s when Michigan State started to come to life, thanks to the play of Loyer, who hit all three of his 3-pointers in the first half and drew a charge on Ohio State’s Keyshawn Woods for his third foul.
The Spartans eventually took a three-point lead on Loyer’s second 3-pointer and pushed that to 32-27 on the first bucket from Winston with 1:53 left in the half. Winston scored the next four around a 3-pointer from Duane Washington to give Michigan State a 36-30 lead at halftime.
“Foster Loyer came in and made some big, big plays,” Izzo said. “And to his credit, they were big, big, big, big plays.
Woods scored 16 for the Buckeyes (19-14), but he was in foul trouble much of the game along with big man Kaleb Wesson, who fouled out midway through the second half and scored only seven points. Andre Wesson added 14 points for the Buckeyes.
“Give Michigan State credit,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “I think they're a terrific, terrific team. Really solid in every way. And I think they have a chance to have a really special, special postseason. So give them credit, first and foremost.
“Proud of the way our guys battled, fought, kept fighting, kept battling all the way until the end. But just didn't have enough today.”
Ohio State opened the second half with a 10-2 run to grab a 40-38 lead. But Loyer got rolling again, scoring five straight at one point as Michigan State took over control of the game, taking a 54-46 lead on a Goins 3-pointer with 11:06 to play.
The lead grew to 10 on a dish from Winston to Aaron Henry in transition and the Spartans began to pour it on, going up 75-53 with five minutes to play after a layup from Xavier Tillman. Ohio State responded with a 16-0 run, but Michigan State added two late Winston free throws as it now looks to face Wisconsin.
“We are just going to control what we can control and you know that’s tomorrow’s game,” McQuaid said. “So that’s all we’re focused on right now.”