Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talks about the Spartans' victory over Illinois to remain unbeaten in the Big Ten. The Detroit News
East Lansing — As it turns out, a game off did wonders for Cassius Winston.
After missing the first game of his career on Sunday with a bone bruise in his left knee, the Michigan State senior guard was back in the lineup Thursday night with the Spartans hosting Illinois as Big Ten play resumed.
He was on fire early and kept it rolling in the second half, scoring 21 and handing out six assists to lead No. 14 Michigan State to a 76-56 victory over Illinois at Breslin Center.
“I felt good just from the jump,” Winston said. “I was able to get out in transition and I didn't know how I would come out after sitting out a game and things like that, so I kind of wanted to test myself in that way and that showed out to be pretty positive.”
Not only was Winston fresh at the beginning of the game, foul trouble ended up helping him on Thursday, as well, as he played just 24:55.
Winston sat the final five minutes of the first half after picking up his second foul, then sat the final four-plus minutes in the second half after getting called for his fourth foul. He was spelled by Foster Loyer and Rocket Watts, who both were turnover free.
“Those fouls were an opportunity to kind of sit down a little bit,” Winston said. “Guys like (Loyer) did a good job holding it down and making plays. He’s getting a lot better in the program, so that helps a lot, too. To not have to play the whole game and kind of sneak out a little bit but still be able to be productive was good.”
Winston had his share of help, too, as junior big man Xavier Tillman added 19 points and seven rebounds for Michigan State while sophomore Gabe Brown chipped in 12 points, sophomore Aaron Henry had 10 points and nine rebounds and sophomore Marcus Bingham grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds.
“As good as Cash played scoring 21, getting four rebounds and six assists with two turnovers in 24 minutes,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said, “and Xavier was really good because he had six assists to go with all the other things he did. But if I was a hockey guy, I’d put my star on a guy who didn’t score a point and that was Marcus Bingham. He blocked some shots, he got some rebounds. He started to look like a player.”
Bingham didn’t score but in addition to his 12 rebounds, he made life difficult for Illinois freshman Kofi Cockburn. Bingham had five blocks as Cockburn — the 7-footer is a five-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week — was just 2-for-10 shooting and finished with five points, his lowest total of the season.
Michigan State sophomore Marcus Bingham had career highs in rebounds (12) and blocks (5) in the Spartans' win over Illinois. The Detroit News
“I was really impressed with Bingham,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “The job he did on both ends of the court in terms of creating space and rebounding was important. … His length was a factor.”
Sophomore Ayo Dosunmu scored 18 to lead Illinois (9-5, 1-2), as the Fighting Illini missed all 11 of their first-half 3-pointers before finishing the game just 3-for-28. Sophomore Alan Griffin added 17 points for the Illini.
“I guess the object is putting that round ball in the basket,” Underwood said. “Tonight was one of those nights. We had 20 offensive rebounds against a Tom Izzo team and I'll take that every night. We just couldn’t make baskets. Couldn’t make a shot. It was a tough night for Kofi but he'll bounce back. But it was a night that Cassius does what Cassius does — he was terrific — and then we let Xavier have a big night.”
Michigan State provided most of the energy early in the game as Winston had nine of the Spartans’ first 13 points. Michigan State pushed its advantage to double digits, leading 31-20 before Winston went out with his second foul with just less than five minutes left in the half.
Illinois took advantage, even with Cockburn on the bench with two fouls, and pulled within 35-30 in the final seconds as Michigan State closed the half 1-for-9 from the field while making just one of its final eight free throws to take a 36-30 halftime lead as Kyle Ahrens missed two of three with 1.2 seconds left.
Brown was the catalyst in the second half for the Spartans, scoring the first seven points of the half before Michigan State went on an 8-0 run to take control. By midway through the half, the Spartans had pushed the lead to 23 as Illinois continued to misfire.
The Fighting Illini pulled within 18 with just more than four minutes left, but they got no closer as Michigan State remained unbeaten in the Big Ten.
The Spartans now turn their attention to Michigan, which comes to Breslin Center on Sunday for the first meeting of the season. Michigan State defeated Michigan three times last year, including in the Big Ten tournament championship game.
Izzo said he’d take an hour to celebrate Thursday’s victory before beginning work on Michigan.
Winston said he might enjoy it a bit longer but is fully aware of what is up next.
“I think I'm taking a little bit more tha hour,” Winston joked. “I think I got until tomorrow, enjoy it. But after that we're back to it. It’s another Big Ten game, another game against Michigan so you know it's gonna be a big game.”