Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News talks about Michigan State pulling out a 76-73 win over Seton Hall behind 21 points from Cassius Winston. The Detroit News
Newark, N.J. — As Michigan State continued to play with heavy hearts, it was Cassius Winston who reminded everyone why he was a preseason All-American while getting a little help from a newcomer.
Winston scored 17 of his 21 in the second half while freshman Malik Hall scored all of his career-high 17 in the second half to give Michigan State a 76-73 victory over No. 12 Seton Hall in the Gavitt Games at the Prudential Center.
It was a performance that helped negate a career night from Seton Hall’s Myles Powell, who scored 37 and was a question mark entering the game with an ankle injury.
“Who could guard Powell?” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He just did an incredible job and deserves every accolade he gets, but I tell you what, Cassius Winston does, too. It might not seem like it tonight, but to play with a broken heart that he has to play with and the mental part of the game that he's been through … I think we saw two superstar guards tonight in different ways, but I am proud of mine, too.”
This was the second game Michigan State (2-1) has played since the death of Zachary Winston, the 19-year-old brother of Michigan State star Cassius Winston. The Spartans wore Zachary Winston's nickname “Smoothie” on their uniforms Thursday night. Cassius Winston also had his brother’s nickname written on his shoes.
“We’re playing with a lot of broken hearts right now,” Izzo said during the pregame show on FS1. “It’s been very hard on the Winston family, it’s been extremely tough on Cassius and somehow he played in the last game. He’s doing as good as he can.”
As the teams took the floor on Thursday, the entire Michigan State starting lineup was booed during pregame introductions, except for Winston, who drew huge applause from the Seton Hall crowd.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talks about the Spartans' victory over No. 12 Seton Hall in the Gavitt Games. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
While Winston sat for long stretches of the first half in foul trouble, he started to take over in the second, scoring 13 points in the final nine minutes of the game. His assist to Rocket Watts for a 3-pointer followed by his own 3-pointer from the wing halted a 13-3 run for Seton Hall and gave Michigan State a 72-71 lead with just more than a minute to play.
“It’s more of a question of when isn’t he amazing,” Aaron Henry said of Winston. “Honestly, he does things that most people can't. He takes shots that most people can’t and makes as much as most people can’t. It’s the same thing with the pass. He’s just a hell of a player and I’m glad he’s on my team.”
After Powell got to the line to put Seton Hall (2-1) back in front on the next trip, it was Hall who got the go-ahead bucket with 25.8 seconds left.
“For the most part it was all about just going up strong,” Hall said. “When somebody's a lot bigger than you and a lot longer and stronger, you just got to go up strong and do as much as you can to finish. I was lucky, I tried to go up strong and finish.”
That he did, and after two stops on Powell drives to the hoop, Winston put the game away with a pair of free throws.
“I thought we bonded. I thought we rallied,” Izzo said, “and I was happy that Cassius got to make the two free throws at the end because you know, it was a tough night for him. He found a way to finish it like true champions do.”
Winston played only eight minutes in the first half after picking up a pair of offensive fouls. Still, Michigan State was able to lead for most of the opening half and the Spartans scored six straight midway through to take a 25-18 lead. Seton Hall responded with a 9-2 run, including five straight from Powell, to tie the score at 27 with 3:44 left.
Michigan State's Xavier Tillman, Rocket Watts and Malik Hall break down the victory over Seton Hall. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
During that stretch, Michigan State sophomore Henry suffered an ankle injury and had to go to the locker room, but Michigan State was able to weather the storm as Watts buried a 3-pointer near the end of the shot clock with 1:44 to play to give the Spartans a 30-27 advantage headed to the locker room.
Seton Hall surged early in the second half, regaining the lead a little more than a minute into the half as things went back and forth with the Pirates leading 38-36 with 16:30 to play. From there, Hall started to heat up, hitting a 3-pointer, then dunking a missed shot from Winston to put MSU up 45-40. The Pirates started to swing things back, though, eventually taking a 53-50 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers.
But Hall struck again, getting a dunk in transition, then hitting another 3-pointer to tie the score at 55. A Winston 3-pointer put MSU up 58-56 before a Hall jumper three minutes later gave the Spartans a 63-58 lead with 6:04 to play.
From there, Seton Hall took over, going on a 13-3 run to take a 71-66 lead with 2:41 to play. But a Watts 3-pointer followed by Winston’s final 3-pointer swung momentum back to the Spartans, who made the plays late to pull out the victory.
“I feel very fortunate to win that game,” Izzo said. “We went through a lot, they went through a lot. First thing I said on TV and to my team, ‘That was a March game in November.’ College basketball needs games like that and two teams fought.”
Michigan State is off until hosting Charleston Southern on Monday before heading the following week to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.