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Three Takeaways: Spartans hold off Northwestern, 61-52

Michigan State moves to 2-0 in conference play with their win over the Wildcats

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State won its second game of the week Friday, taking down the previously 12-2 Northwestern Wildcats. The Spartans started the game on a hot streak and saw their lead balloon to 19 points. Northwestern made it a much closer game, but clutch plays from Cassius Winston and company helped MSU keep disaster at bay. Three takeaways.

1. Playing Through Adversity

Earlier this week, things looked awful bleak for these Spartans. Less than 10 days removed from a humbling home loss to Northeastern, they found themselves down 14 points midway through the second half against Minnesota. They could have easily crumbled, instead unlikely catalysts Alvin Ellis and Tum Tum Nairn helped them close the gap and eventually steal a win in overtime.

The hope was momentum would carry over to tonight’s game and boy did it ever. MSU came out scorching hot, jumping out to a lead as big as 19 points in the first half. Northwestern fought back, though, cutting the lead to seven at intermission, and all the way down to four early in the second stanza. Again, MSU could have fallen apart and let the disappointment of watching their big lead evaporate cause them to give the game away. But, again, they responded, this time behind Cassius Winston’s magical play.

Now, instead of sitting at 8-6 or 9-7 and hearing the bubble talk get deservedly loud, they’re 10-5 — more importantly, 2-0 in conference play — with a very manageable upcoming slate (vs Rutgers, vs Penn State, vs Minnesota) and the impending return of their best* player.

They have faced as many trying situations as a team can face — playing great teams all over the country, losing stars to injury, having only one real big men and overcoming huge deficits — but it looks like those experiences are starting to pay off in spades and this young team is quickly becoming seasoned.

*Big Puddin’ may have something to say about this.

2. Cassius Bounces Back

MSU’s star freshman point guard has been described in many ways already this relatively young season — savvy, crafty, plays beyond his years — but the word I keep coming back to is “special”.

After a night-long struggle against the Gophers, a game in which he fouled out after scoring only two points, Winston came back to life against the Wildcats.

Cassius ended up with 15 points (6-of-9 shooting, 2-of-3 from deep) and 6 assists,on several occasions carrying a laboring MSU offense. Time and time again he got to the rim and was able to finish with flair.

It has been said many times here, but it’s not hard to see why Tom Izzo chased this young man for four years on the recruiting trail. He appears to be the maestro of this team and the ones to come and he’s already bouncing back from off nights like a vet.

3. Rough Day for ‘Cat Stars

Northwestern’s Big Three of Scottie Lindsay, Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh have big a major reason why they got off to a 12-2 start. Tonight, however, it was more like the Big One.

Vic Law had a great game — 16 points (6-for-11 from the field, 1-for-1 from 3) 9 rebound, 3 assists and a steal — but the other two combined to score only 18 points on 6-for-25 (24%) shooting, with 3 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 turnovers. The duo entered the game averaging 28 points between them and it’s going to be tough for the WIldcats to win many games when these two aren’t holding up their end of the offensive bargain.