Rushed Reactions: Michigan State 65, Michigan 60

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2019

Much like 2019’s third installments of the Duke/North Carolina and Kentucky/Tennessee trilogies, this season’s third chapter of the Michigan/Michigan State rivalry was an epic that went down to the wire. The Spartans fought back from an 13-point second half deficit and used a ridiculous Cassius Winston drive and lay-in with 29 seconds remaining to ensure they finished the season 3-0 against their biggest rival. The following are three key takeaways from Sunday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament championship game.

Michigan State Beat Michigan for the Third Straight Time This Season (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Cassius Winston willed Michigan State to victory. Some special points guards have come through the Michigan State program during Tom Izzo‘s 24 seasons in East Lansing, and it is becoming increasingly cleare that this season’s Big Ten Player of the Year should be considered among that group. Winston was incredible throughout the second half of today’s championship game, as he led the Spartans back from a 13-point deficit by tallying 11 points and seven assists in the game’s second stanza. Michigan State could have packed it in and preserved its energy for the NCAA Tournament when it faced the significant uphill climb, but a player like Winston does not have “pack it in” in his DNA. Michigan State has not advanced past the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend since 2015, but with Winston at the controls and his teammates fully receptive to his leadership, it will be truly surprising if the Spartans do not advance to this year’s Sweet Sixteen and perhaps beyond.
  2. This season has been one of Tom Izzo’s best coaching jobs. It is not unusual for the Spartans to enter the NCAA Tournament as both the Big Ten regular season and tournament champion, as Michigan State is one of the country’s strongest programs year in and year out. That said, Michigan State had every reason to take a step back this season. For starters, the Spartans lost two lottery picks from last year’s team, so their roster was simply not as talented as it was a season ago. Then once the season commenced, the injury bug hit the team with an unrelenting fury. Scoring guard Joshua Langford was lost for the season in late December with an ankle injury. Forward Nick Ward suffered a hand injury in February. Winston himself battled through knee and toe ailments throughout the final portion of conference play. Role player Kyle Ahrens was hampered by a bad back during Big Ten play before suffering what appeared to be a serious ankle injury in the win over Michigan. Despite the locker room sometimes resembling a MASH unit, Izzo adjusted with what he had available and led his team, once again, to the top of the Big Ten.
  3. Michigan’s inability to close out Michigan State this season will keep John Beilein awake at night. Michigan is headed to the NCAA Tournament with a 28-6 overall record, which, by every measure represents an excellent resume in one of the country’s toughest conferences. Even with that sterling mark, the Wolverines must be driving themselves crazy over the fact they blew three leads against Michigan State this season that led to three losses. On February 24 in Ann Arbor, Michigan led 51-45 with 15:57 to play and ended up losing 77-70. On March 9 in East Lansing, Michigan State pulled out a 75-63 victory after it trailed by 12 in the first half. In Sunday’s title game, the Wolverines led by 13 with 17:12 to play before the Spartans rallied to once again earn a victory. One has to believe that John Beilien and his group making deep run in the NCAA Tournament will be the only thing that will eliminate the bad taste left in their mouths by those defeats.

Player of the Game. Matt McQuaid, Michigan State. The senior sharpshooter saved his best Big Ten Tournament performance for his final Big Ten Tournament game. McQuaid finished with a career-high 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting (7-of-13 from behind the three-point line) and it seemed like each time Michigan State needed a big basket during its comeback, the senior from Texas stepped up and buried one from the perimeter. McQuaid’s defense on Michigan guard Jordan Poole was also noteworthy, as Poole was limited to just 3-of-11 shooting and had to work hard for every one of his attempts. Role players stepping up in March is crucial to a team’s success and McQuaid certainly filled that role in the victory today.

What’s Next. Michigan State earned the #2 seed in the East Region and will be playing #15 Bradley in Des Moines on Thursday. Michigan also earned a #2 seed in the Des Moines pod, where the Wolverines will do battle with #15 Montana.

WCarey (318 Posts)

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