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Cassius Winston’s hot shooting pushes Michigan State to fifth straight win

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

EAST LANSING — Four days removed from it’s 104-83 thumping of Green Bay on Sunday, No. 10 Michigan State (10-2, 2-0 B1G) notched its fifth straight win Friday night, cruising past Oakland (4-9) 99-69.

“There were some good things in there and there were some bad things,” head coach Tom Izzo said following his team’s 30-point win. “We wanted to leave here feeling good and I feel decent.”

The Spartans were paced by their junior guard Cassius Winston, who led all scorers with a season-high 26 points. Winston was dialed in from the opening tip and had one of his more efficient offensive outputs, finishing 10-for-13, including knocking down four 3-point baskets.

“Offensively, he [Winston] was ready to shoot,” Izzo said of his point guard’s stellar performance. “I thought we did a good job of finding him. He’s still gotta bear down on the defensive end now. If he does that, he goes from a very very good player to an elite player.”

Junior Nick Ward continued his efficient play as of late, ending the night with 14 points on a productive 6-for-7 night from the floor. While foul trouble limited him to just 20 minutes, the 6-foot-9 forward collected seven rebounds and showcased a couple of midrange face-up jumpers that he’s seemingly added to his offensive arsenal.

Defensively, Michigan State stifled a Golden Grizzlies squad which came into the matchup averaging 78 points per game to just 40 percent shooting from the floor. After having his way with 13 first-half points, Xavier Hill-Mais, the Golden Grizzlies’ leading scorer at 22 points per outing, was held to just four second-half points and finished the night with 17.

“I thought Nick Ward did a hell of a job on him [Hill-Mais],” Izzo said of his big man’s defensive efforts against the Golden Grizzlies’ go-to scorer. “Usually Xavier is our best defender and Xavier struggled a little more than Nick did. I think Nick Ward did a very good job.”

Joshua Langford didn’t have his best offensive showing, but he did a whole lot of different things well for the Spartans. Langford ended the night with 12 points on just nine shot attempts. He was active on both ends of the floor, however, collecting four rebounds, four assists and three steals.

A couple of the freshmen continue to get their feet wet as the season ages. Aaron Henry and Marcus Bingham Jr. combined for just five points, but both showed encouraging signs on both ends of the floor. As the first half was winding down, Bingham soared up for a strong rebound, relocated to the corner and whizzed a bullet to Winston who buried a dead-eye 3-pointer.

The Spartans stuck to their up-tempo guns again on Friday, turning over the Golden Grizzlies 13 times, which led to 22 points of their own on the other end. MSU kept its foot on the gas for 40 minutes, getting out and running at will, which resulted in 47 fast break points, much to the bewilderment of Oakland head coach Greg Kampe.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve been around a long time and I’ve never looked at a stat sheet before and saw 47 fast break points. Holy crap,” Kampe, whose in his 35th season on the Oakland sidelines, said in amazement.

The one major area of improvement for the Spartans was how they handled the basketball. Entering Friday’s contest, Michigan State was turning it over 13.3 times per outing. The Spartans were much cleaner with the basketball, coughing it up just seven times and assisting on 27 made buckets on 38 shot attempts.

With the win, the Spartans notched their fifth straight win and have now won 10 of their last 11 ballgames. MSU will be off for the holidays and then will finish its nonconference slate Dec. 29 when Northern Illinois comes to town. MSU’s Big Ten season will kick off the new year when Northwestern comes to the Breslin Center on Jan. 2.