Nolan Bianchi with three quick takeaways from Michigan State's 70-50 victory over Minnesota in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Captain Cassius strikes again
Death, taxes, and Cassius Winston saving the Spartans. That's the era of Michigan State basketball we've lived in down the stretch of this 2018-19 season, and it should come as no surprise that the junior guard came alive as the Gophers trimmed a once-comfortable lead down to single digits early in the second half.
Winston ended an 8-0 run with seven points and a steal in 1:05, extending the Spartans' lead back to 16 and killing the momentum Minnesota had built over the past few minutes. Michigan State wound up extending its lead to 19 less than two minutes later, and the game was never really in doubt after that.
It's certain that the Spartans would prefer that Winston's heroics wouldn't be necessary so often, but it's become a foundation by which Michigan State has closed out big games time and time again.
The good and the bad
Michigan State's dominant performance wasn't without its flaws. The Spartans gave up 26 points off turnovers. Michigan State's ball-control issues were most glaring during a stretch in the second half when Minnesota trimmed its deficit to just 9 points, with four turnovers by Michigan State making way for an 8-0 Minnesota run during a three-minute span.
The good news for Michigan State, and perhaps the reason why it wasn't crippled by a 22-6 turnover margin, is that it crushed Minnesota on the boards. The Spartans out-rebounded Minnesota 36, but that doesn't necessarily paint the whole picture: Michigan State collected 11 offensive boards, whereas Minnesota grabbed just 19 boards total. Michigan State also scored 13 second-chance points.
Every member of the Spartans offense got involved early in Saturday's win over Minnesota, and it led to a high efficiency rate as Michigan State jumped out to an 31-11 lead with six minutes to go in the first half.
That dominance continued in the second half, as Michigan State finished 60 percent from the field and was 6 of 15 from beyond the arc as a team. The Spartans also bullied Minnesota inside, collecting 34 of its points in the paint.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.