After Spartans loss, Winston and Ward offer no hints about next season

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Minneapolis – It’s the nature of the NCAA Tournament.

Things end quickly, and it doesn’t take long to start thinking of what’s next.

Michigan State's Cassius Winston steals the ball and heads down court in the second half.

Michigan State found itself in that position on Saturday night, a game earlier than it expected. The Spartans had just run into the suffocating defense of Texas Tech and saw its season end in the Final Four in a 61-51 loss to the Red Raiders at U.S. Bank Stadium.

For fifth-year senior Kenny Goins and senior Matt McQuaid, the answers were clear. It was their final college game, with both finishing their careers on the final weekend of the season with Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships in hand. Along the way they beat Michigan three times and knocked off Duke.

However, the Spartans came up short in the quest for a third national championship.

What the roster looks like next season when they try and take another shot remains to be seen. Juniors Cassius Winston and Nick Ward are the most likely to at least take a peek at the NBA, though neither was making any commitments on Saturday night.

“I don’t know,” Winston said. “I’m just enjoying this right now, enjoying my teammates and I’ll sit down and have that conversation when the time comes.”

Winston seemed like a sure-fire four-year player before having a breakout season in 2018-19. He was named Big Ten Player of the Year and earned first-team All-American honors from the Associated Press and the Sporting News while averaging 19 points and 7.6 assists, third-best in the country.

But at 6-foot-1 and lacking superior speed and quickness, he might not be high on many NBA draft boards.

Ward’s standing might be just as unclear. The 6-9 big man tested the waters last season but decided to return for his junior season. He seemed almost certain to be playing his last season with the Spartans before a broken hand forced him to miss the final five regular-season games and he never returned to the starting lineup.

“We’ll (the Spartans) be back next year,” Ward said.

When it was posed to him, specifically, Ward was less clear.

“These guys mean the world to me,” Ward said. “I’m not really focused on that decision yet. I’m just really trying to spend time with my guys.”

Everyone else should be back. In fact, sophomore Xavier Tillman laughed off any notion his late-season surge would lead him to explore the next level.

“Me?” Tillman asked. “Yeah. I’ll be here. Yeah.”

The Spartans also add three freshmen — guards Rocket Watts and Malik Hall and forward Julius Marble.

And while they believe they’ll be back in the hunt for the Final Four next season, coach Tom Izzo made it clear nothing is guaranteed.

“That’s what I try and tell my guys every year,” Izzo said. “But Kenny and Quaido don’t get that next chance. Cash might not. Who knows? Look at the way the NCAA Tournament went.

“I wish I could be a coach that explains to his players, ‘Don’t ever think next year because it may never come.’ It’ hard for kids, especially when you’re 18 or 19 and you have three years left and always think there is a tomorrow. Hell, I don’t know if I’ve got tomorrow, but I know for a fact Quaido and Kenny don’t, and that’s hard.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau