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Bob Wojnowski and Matt Charboneau break down MSU vs. LSU in the NCAA Tournament. The Detroit News, The Detroit News

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Washington – Cassius Winston has been paying off big all season for Michigan State, earning the rather apt nickname of “Cash Money.”

It’s a play off his first name, which is often shortened to Cash by teammates and coaches. It also pays tribute to the fact he’s been the Spartans’ most reliable player, coming through in crunch time over and over again. Hence, the “Money” part of the nickname.

It all comes together when a Winston 3-pointer elicits the celebration from the junior guard – hands in the air rubbing his thumb and index fingers. It means Winston has cashed in again for the Spartans.

It’s been the norm most of the year and No. 2 Michigan State will be counting on it Friday night when it takes on No. 3 LSU in the East Region semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.

“Cassius is so rock solid with everything that he does,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said last week before the Gophers faced Michigan State in the second round. “(He is) probably one of the best point guards in the country.”

So, great player, great nickname.

But it doesn’t end there, because Winston also carries around a small backpack that fits the name and his personality. It’s features a green bear with a dollar sign on his chest. Above the bear is the word “Money” and the “O” is replaced by a heart with green arrows through it.

For a guy who still loves watching cartoons, it was the perfect backpack.

“Oh man,” Winston said Thursday when asked about the bag. “Well, it's from China. My mom went to China earlier this year. She saw the backpack, she thought of me. So I love cartoons and the cash money thing, so it was just a play off that. I love the backpack.”

Winston has been carrying it around most of the season. It’s popped up here and there on social media and sometimes you can catch a glimpse of it as the television networks follow the team off the bus and into the locker room.

To Winston’s teammates, it’s the perfect accessory.

“Whenever I walk into the Brez in the morning he always has cartoons on, it just fits him well,” senior guard Matt McQuaid said. “And the cash money thing, I think it all flows together.”

Added junior center Nick Ward, “I completely agree with everything Matt said because he does watch cartoons all the time. I live with him. I hear all the little gunshots, the little ‘Looney Tunes’ stuff. But for sure it fits his personality.”

That personality includes being cool and clam under pressure, something that provides a balance with coach Tom Izzo, who admits sometimes he gets a little worked up.

That give and take, though, has created partnership that has Michigan State knocking on the door of another Final Four appearance.

“He’s more of a quiet assassin," Izzo said of Winston. “Sometimes that frustrates me because you want to see passion in a guy, but he has his own style. It’s taken me a while to learn that style, too. But do I think he’s excited about this? Do I think he’s looking forward to it? Do I think he’s ready for the challenge? One hundred percent. He just has a different way of showing us all.

“And yet on my team, that might be good, because I show emotion the other way. So he keeps a complete balance between the coach and the players, and that’s what makes him so special.”

‘More important than anything’

Michigan State’s opponent on Friday, LSU, finds itself tied up in part of the ongoing investigation into corruption in college basketball. Its coach, Will Wade, is suspended for allegedly being recorded talking about an offer for a recruit. That recruit, Javonte Smart, is now a freshman at LSU and will play on Friday.

Other programs have also been implicated recently, and Izzo was asked this week about the state of the game as so much uncertainty exists.

“I do feel like a guardian of the game,” Izzo said. “I worked for a guy named Jud Heathcote who thought that was more important than anything he did. I'm saddened by what went on with the federal investigation and what's going on. The problem I have today since I'm not a big Twitter guy: What is reality and what isn't? Do I think there are some problems in college basketball? I definitely do. Do I think that people are wrapping their arms around it and trying to make a difference? I do.

“And so nervous, scared, excited – probably all the above. Sometimes when things happen, that leads to change that's positive change. And if that happens, that would be good, too.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau

 

 

 

 

 

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