Spartans seniors say their emotional farewells to Breslin
East Lansing — It was Senior Day at Breslin Center on Sunday, and that meant all eyes were on Cassius Winston.
Well, most eyes were, and that is understandable considering the career Winston has had and what he has meant to the entire Michigan State community.
But as No. 16 Michigan State finished off its 80-69 victory over No. 19 Ohio State to earn a share of a third straight Big Ten championship, it was the last hurrah for at least two other seniors, as Kyle Ahrens and Conner George played their final home games.
Ahrens started for the first time this season and played just more than 14 minutes. He didn’t score but did get to go one-on-one with his brother, Justin, late in the game. Justin Ahrens is a sophomore for the Buckeyes and he squared off with his brother in the final minute of a game that has already been decided.
Kyle Ahrens’ shot was off the mark but the brothers shared an embrace as Ahrens left the court for the final time and kissed the Spartans logo at midcourt. Justin joined his brother afterward for the Senior Day ceremony.
The opportunity to acknowledge the crowd and kiss the floor capped a long road for Ahrens, who battled injuries his entire career but is closing things about as healthy as he’s been in more than a year and playing key minutes.
“It took so many hours of work for that, everything I’ve been through was worth it,” Ahrens said. “The hard work and dedication, the amazing teammates I have, it’s all worth it.”
George, the son of volleyball coach Cathy George, has been a walk-on for four of his five seasons but has consistently drawn the praise of teammates. Earlier in the week, Cassius Winston said if there was a hall of fame for scout team players, George would be a lock.
“It was awesome just because it’s such a tradition here,” George said of his quick appearance and chance to kiss the logo.
“It’s been passed down for so long, just to continue to do that and to have my guys Cash, Josh (Langford) and Kyle do it, too, was awesome. It got emotional because you realize it’s your last time doing this and being a part of a game here at the Breslin, which makes it all sweeter because we won it and got another Big Ten championship. It was a perfect way to go out.”
Langford went through the Senior Day ceremony as well, but there’s a chance he might be back.
Langford missed the entire season as the foot injury he suffered last season lingered and led to more surgery.
Langford said in December that he did not intend to use a redshirt season and return to Michigan State. However, he’s softened on that stance recently and said this week he still has not decided on what direction he’ll go.
“We’re not quite sure what Joshua is doing yet,” Izzo said, drawing a huge cheer from the crowd.
As the big screens zoomed in on a smiling Langford, the fans began chanting, “One more year.”
After the game, Izzo talked about how Langford never deserted the team.
“He didn’t miss a practice, a meeting, a film session all year,” Izzo said. “It was ridiculous I started telling him, ‘Don’t come.’ It was embarrassing. I mean, 7 o’clock in the morning he’s hopping along on his scooter in the winter, but I think that’s what this team became. They’re a bunch of good guys, a bunch of good students.”
Chasing the record
The championship was the 16th in program history and the 10th for Izzo, who trails Purdue’s Ward Lambert and Indiana’s Bob Knight, who each won 11 Big Ten championships.
Izzo has led the Spartans to three straight regular-season titles twice.
Michigan State won at least a share of the championship four straight seasons beginning in 1997-98 and ending in 2000-01.
“When I sit back and look at them, 10 is an awesome number,” Izzo said. “It’s an awesome number and as I think about it now and how awesome it is, 11 would be an even nicer number, so we’ll just kind of look to next year and try to keep things rolling.
“But because of everything it’s got to rank right up there as one of the greatest achievements by a team.”
Big Ten tournament schedule
At Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis; all games on BTN unless noted
No. 12 Minnesota vs. No. 13 Northwestern, 6
No. 11 Indiana vs. No. 14 Nebraska, 8:30
No. 8 Rutgers vs. No. 9 Michigan, noon
No. 5 Iowa vs. Minnesota-Northwestern winner, 2:30
No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Purdue, 6:30
No. 6 Penn State vs. Indiana-Nebraska winner, 9
No. 1 Wisconsin vs. Rutgers-Michigan winner, noon
No. 4 Illinois vs. Iowa-Minnesota/Northwestern winner, 2:30
No. 2 Michigan State vs. Ohio State-Purdue winner, 6:30
No. 3 Maryland vs. Penn State-Indiana/Nebraska winner, 9
Semifinals, 1 and 3:30 (CBS)
Final, 3:30 (CBS)