Sorry, still trying to wipe away all the tears after Eron Harris’ Senior Day moment.
Ok, I’m ready now. That. Was. Awesome.
In beating Wisconsin, the Spartans were able to finally add that elusive marquee win to their resume and all but lock up a trip to the NCAA Tournament. There are still games to be played, but this was a huge opportunity and they made the most of it.
Since Harris’ injury, the Spartans have taken their play up a notch. First, with a 88-72 beatdown of Nebraska and today against the Badgers, a game they controlled most of the way through. For a young team like this one, learning to win big games is hard but it seems like they’re getting the hang of it.
1. Frontcourt Fury
Nick Ward and Miles Bridges have been the two best players for Michigan State all season, and when confronted with a major test in Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes, they played like it, especially on defense.
The Badgers had a fairly obvious plan of posting one of the two big guys every time down the floor but Ward and Bridges did more than hold their own. Happ was limited to 8 points — he did grab 11 rebounds — and was clearly bothered by Ward. Hayes had 22 points, but it took him 22 shots (and 400 off-arm pushes) to get there. It’s hard to overstate just how well these two played on defense.
Offensively, they carried the Spartans. Bridges dropped 17, going right at Hayes who clearly wore down as the game went on thanks to a very heavy workload, but Ward was the key. Puddin’ was the best version of himself today, knocking in baby hooks and flying to rim in the pick and roll. His 22 points came on a hyper-efficient 9-of-12 from the field and were mostly against one of the premier interior defenders in the Big Ten in Happ.
They’re always going to be a bit short, but they came up big today.
2. Cash Money
It’s rare that a player can go 2-for-11 from the field, not make a single two-point shot and you can still say “we would not have won without him” but Cassius Winston is special, man.
Despite the poor shooting, the freshman flirted with a triple-double (10 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds) and was in control during a crucial second half stretch with Bridges and Ward on the bench in foul trouble. He showed his incredible court awareness on several pretty passes that set guys up for easy baskets and kept things humming as the game went on.
He may not be the starter but this team is better with him on the floor.
3. Uh, Matt McQuaid?!
I’m still not convinced that was actually Matt McQuaid playing today. The much-maligned sophomore had easily his best performance of the season and, probably, his career against Wisconsin.
McQuaid scored 15 points and looked comfortable on the court, which doesn’t sound like much but it really is. As with any shoot-first player, confidence is essential and for the first time in a long time, McQuaid played with a lot of it. He drove to the basket, didn’t hesitate on open shots and looked locked in defensively, for the most part.
He’s always good for at least one ulcer-inducing turnover a game (the late pass to Miles that he sailed out of bounds) but this is the type of game that can turn a shooter around quickly.