'We just stuck together': McQuaid, Winston power Michigan State to Big Ten tournament title
Chicago — Another rivalry win. Another title. Another statement.
Michigan State wanted it all in Sunday’s Big Ten tournament championship game against Michigan at the United Center.
And thanks to a career performance from Matt McQuaid, the Spartans got it with a 65-60 victory that featured a thrilling finish where they rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit.
McQuaid finished with a career-high 27 points and Cassius Winston had 14 points, 11 assists and the go-ahead layup for Michigan State (28-6), which closed the game on a 10-0 run over the final 2:02 to sweep the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles.
"I've never been prouder of a team in my life," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "Coaches say that every time after they win and year after year, and I've had some incredible teams and incredible guys, but what these guys have been through nobody will ever know, and the way they have handled it and hung in there against today, a very, very, very good team.
"Cassius was unbelievable and McQuaid was even better than him, and Xavier (Tillman) made some big plays, and we found a way to beat a very good team."
Michigan State was given the No. 2 seed in the East Region for the NCAA Tournament and will open against No. 15 Bradley on Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa. Duke is the No. 1 seed in the East.
MSU would play the winner of the Minnesota vs. Louisville first-round game, should it get past Bradley.
Michigan, meanwhile, received a No. 2 seed in the West, and will play Montana on Thursday in Des Moines, with the possibility of playing either Nevada or Florida next.
Ignas Brazdeikis scored 19, Jordan Poole added 13 and Jon Teske had 10 points and 10 rebounds for Michigan (28-6), which squandered a second-half lead and lost all three meetings to Michigan State in similar fashion this season.
"I tell you, you're going to play at this level, you talk about being champions," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "There's 12 Big Ten teams home, right. There's 12 of them home. You play for a championship, it gets to this point that — I'm proud of them, we fight hard, but winning takes just about everything, winning at this level. You can win games. To win championships, you have to really do most of the right things."
After Michigan used a 20-6 run to take control in the first half, the Wolverines extended the lead with an 8-0 run that featured five straight points from Brazdeikis to make it 39-26 with 17:12 to go.
But Michigan State didn’t go away and came roaring back to life with a haymaker of its own — just like it did in the first two meetings.
Tillman started the surge with an offensive putback to ignite a 19-7 run. McQuaid did most of the damage with a three-point play and two 3-pointers before Winston's layup tied it at 48 with 7:15 remaining.
The Wolverines led 60-55 after Isaiah Livers hit a 3-pointer with 2:29 to go, but they wouldn't score again.
McQuaid answered with a deep ball of his own to start the game-ending run and Michigan State tied it at 60 on a layup by Tillman with 1:19 left.
After Michigan called a timeout and Zavier Simpson missed an open 3-pointer, Winston scored on a driving layup over Teske to give Michigan State its first lead, 62-60, since 7:01 mark in the first half.
On the ensuing possession, Brazdeikis had his layup attempt blocked by Aaron Henry with 14 seconds to play. Teske and Tillman battled for the ball before it went out of bounds and a review gave possession to Michigan State.
Henry split two free throws to make it 63-60 and Michigan had one last chance to tie it. Poole appeared to get bumped by Winston — Michigan State had a foul to give — before he released a running 3-point attempt that was off the mark.
Kenny Goins hit two free throws to make it a five-point game with two seconds left and seal Michigan State's sixth Big Ten tournament championship.
"We just stuck with each other," Winston said. "We trusted each other and we did everything for our teammates. It wasn’t selfish. We did everything for our teammates and our guys had our backs.”
The early stages proved to be another defensive chess match with both teams feeling one another out. Michigan State was able to find its footing sooner, making seven of 11 shots during a stretch and taking a 17-11 lead following a 3-pointer from Winston with 9:57 left in the first half.
But the game changed once Tillman drew his second foul at the 9:03 mark and was planted on the bench. With Tillman sitting out the rest of the half, Michigan closed out the half on a 20-6 run and Michigan State missed 10 of its final 12 shots.
Teske was a force during the spurt and did a little bit of everything — blocking shots, diving on the floor for loose balls and scoring around the rim — as Michigan scored 10 straight points to take a 21-17 lead at the 5:20 mark.
A running skyhook from Simpson and another 3-pointer from Brazdeikis capped the strong finish and gave Michigan a 31-23 halftime lead that it couldn't hold.
“We were just firing each other up, just motivating," McQuaid said. "Coach was motivating, intense. Just trying to keep everybody in tune with what we’re doing, keep us together. We’ve been down against them the past two games at halftime, too, so he was just reminding us of that. They’re a good team, but we just had to keep fighting.”
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Bradley
When: Thursday, 2:45 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa
TV/radio: CBS/WJR 760
Records: Michigan State 28-6, Bradley 20-14
Next up: Winner faces winner between No. 7 Louisville and No. 10 Minnesota
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Montana
When: Thursday, 9:20 p.m
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa
TV/radio: TNT/WWJ 950
Records: Michigan 28-6, Montana 26-8
Next up: Winner faces winner between No. 7 Nevada and No. 10 Florida