With the weight of not reaching the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2015, first-round struggles and criticism of the program all weighing on the Spartans, they wasted no time getting to work. Unfortunately for the Big Ten, it was the Minnesota Golden Gophers on the receiving end. The Spartans domination would end in a 70-50 final score.
Video: Michigan State vs. Minnesota: Second round NCAA tournament extended highlights
Cassius Winston was relatively quiet through the first half. Despite scoring only four points in the first half, Winston went to the break with seven assists, helping the Spartans to a 33-19 lead. But it was clear to his head coach that Winston was not playing his best game.
Goins broke a 0-for-13 skid from 3-point range by hitting his first two 3-pointers in the first half. Ward, who had played a limited role since returning last week from an absence due to a broken hand, got going again by scoring nine points in 20 minutes. Tillman was an efficient 6-for-8 shooting for 14 points. Winston finished with 13 points and nine assists.
In the second half, when the Spartans were pressed for the first time all game that Winston showed how much hes really worth to MSU.
Instant reaction: Three quick takeaways from MSUs win over Minnesota
Michigan State watched its halftime lead shrink to just nine with 14 minutes to play. Thats when Tom Izzo challenged his All-American.
Instant reaction: Three quick takeaways from UMs win over Florida
I always tell him, when the head goes, the body follows. Hes our head, Izzo said. When he got back on the horse, the rest of the guys did. Its pretty cool that hes got that much impact on our team.
Michigan beats Florida at its own game to storm into Sweet 16
Winston then went on a one-man tear, scoring seven straight points. The game would never feel close again.
Its more about showing your energy level, youre approach, Winston said. You know, just focusing in on the task at hand. You got to make some big plays. I have to be who I am for this team.
Winstons steady play paid off in a big way for his teammates stat sheets. Xavier Tillman had a team-high 14 points. Kenny Goins, Aaron Henry, Matt McQuaid and Nick Ward scored nine points each. Henry recovered nicely from his issues in the first-round, leading the team in rebounds with eight.
Thats just typical Cassius, thats just what he does, Tillman said after the game. Whenever we need him to score, whenever we need him to distribute whenever we need him to just lead vocally, he does whatever we need him to do. That was just another day in the park.
Izzo repeatedly mentioned the heavy load placed on Winston and how crucial he is to the team. And now, how important it is to get Winston some time off.
Im a little concerned because, hes struggling. If I was going to be honest with you, that wasnt the best Ive seen Cassius play, Izzo said. And if he can do that not playing his best, that bodes well. But were going to have to get him some rest the next couple of days.
Sweet, sweet, sweet: Michigan beats Florida to reach third straight Sweet 16
While it was the MSU offense that closed the door, it was Minnesotas offense that may have made the biggest difference. The Spartans defense held the Gophers to only 30 percent from the field and an outrageous nine percent (2-22) from three. Only three Minnesota players scored more than two points and only Amir Coffey – who had 27 – scored more than eight points.
Video & Quotes: Michigan press conference after Florida
The win was the 50th career NCAA Tournament win for Izzo. The Spartans move on to the Sweet Sixteen for the 20th time in program history. They will meet the LSU Tigers in Washington D.C. Three-seed LSU beat Maryland earlier in the day to secure their spot.
Most Read NCAA Tournament Round of 32 Game Thread: Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Michigan State Spartans Opinion: Izzos legacy will never recover after wild, never-before-seen outburst Firing Izzo just isnt enough after he yelled at a player Find Tickets Michigan State area events happening soon:
We recognize you are attempting to access this website from a country belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) including the EU which enforces the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and therefore access cannot be granted at this time. For any issues, contact [email protected] or call 352-376-4458.