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Spartans coach discusses 65-60 victory over Wildcats. Matt Charboneau

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Rosemont, Ill. — Miles Bridges might be Michigan State’s best player. Jaren Jackson Jr. might be the player that gets drafted higher than any other.

But when it comes to who is Michigan State’s most important player, it’s getting hard to not believe that player is Cassius Winston.

As Winston goes, so go the Spartans. At least, that’s the way it seems most games. And that was absolutely the case Saturday as No. 2 Michigan State erased a 27-point deficit to pull off the largest comeback in Big Ten history in a 65-60 victory over Northwestern at Allstate Arena.

Winston, along with the entire team, didn’t play well in the first half. In the second, however, as Michigan State scored 24 straight points, it was Winston who was the catalyst. He scored eight of his 17 points during that run then added the last of his four 3-pointers and a pair of free throws in the final minutes to help put the game away.

“He had an unbelievable half,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of Winston. “They tried to post him up and he did a decent job of fighting in the post. He’s gotten so much better defensively and that’s really helped us to where we don’t even want to take him out at the end.

“So, the offensive part we put in more ball screens (for him). I thought we were stagnant and not moving the ball for a while, but that (Northwestern) defense was hard to figure out and that’s on me, not on the players. But we put it in (Winston’s) hands and he made some magic.”

Winston had just four points in the first half but finished with 17 points, seven assists and a career-high nine rebounds.

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The top 3-point shooter in the Big Ten was a perfect 3-for-3 in the second half.

“I’ve always known Cassius was big-time,” Bridges said. “He shows up when we need him. Going down the stretch we always get ball to him.”

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It’s becoming the norm for Winston, who is currently on pace to have the best 3-point shooting percentage of any player in Michigan State history. He’s currently 62-for-115, which is good for 53.9 percent.

“My job is to try and win games for this team,” Winston said. “I do whatever I can to the best of my ability to win games and make shots. When it’s there it’s my job to step up and knock them down.”

Stop the bleeding

Michigan State played poorly on defense in the first half as Northwestern scored 49 points, the most the Spartans have allowed in the first half this season.

So, when they needed a spark in the second half it was junior Kenny Goins and freshman Xavier Tillman that helped provide it. Their defense came at the beginning of Michigan State run and set the tone for the remainder of the game.

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Cassius Winston, Nick Ward, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. talk about the Spartans' 65-60 victory over the Wildcats. Matt Charboneau

“It’s what Michigan State was built on,” Goins said. “Defense, rebounding and running, so that’s what I bring to the table. Other guys like Cassius are shooting threes and everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. (Defense and rebounding) is what I can bring for our team to make these runs.”

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Michigan State dressed every player on its active roster for Saturday’s game. A recent report from ESPN said a player is being investigated for criminal sexual conduct, something The Detroit News has confirmed. Izzo was asked by ESPN after the game when he became aware of the investigation.

“I’m not gonna talk about that other than to say (MSU) President (John) Engler said as much as can be said at this time,” Izzo said. “I appreciate his leadership and support but as I said, right now my focus continues to be on healing process of those survivors, our university, our community and my team. That’s what I’m gonna stick with. There will be more said.”

Engler criticized the report on Friday, calling it “weak” and “incomplete.

Slam dunks

Bridges had one of his toughest games as a Spartan, scoring eight points on 2-for-6 shooting and committing four turnovers while battling foul trouble. However, he hit a baseline jumper late in the second half and made four free throws in the final minute.

“It says a lot about our team,” Izzo said, “but it says a lot about Miles, too.”

… Northwestern senior guard Bryant McIntosh missed the game due to a shoulder injury suffered on Tuesday against Rutgers.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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