It wasn’t always pretty, and there may have been holes exposed, but the Michigan State Spartans finished off the Maui Invitational on a high note.
The Spartans played their third game in three days early Wednesday morning on the islands, but played their best game of the tournament beating UCLA 75-62.
The Spartans and Bruins traded blows through the first 15 minutes of play. However, a strong close to the first half paved the way to a dominant second half. Michigan State continued to build on its lead, eventually being able to clear the bench in the closing minutes.
As has been the case all season, the Spartans success was based on Cassius Winston’s play. The senior All-American scored a game-high 20 points, including three buckets from beyond the arc. Winston was aided by 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks from Xavier Tillman.
Rocket Watts played his best game of the young season. The freshman guard scored a season high 12 points. It’s become clear that Izzo is beginning to trust the talented freshman, who is finding a rhythm in the Spartans offense.
But the biggest emergence from the game may be continued success from three-point territory. For the second night in a row, the Spartans shot better than 40 percent from deep. Something that may have cost them wins against both Kentucky and Virginia Tech.
In addition to Winston, Gabe Brown showed confidence from outside the arc. The sophomore hit two of his three deep balls. Brown may fill the hole left by Joshua Langford as the two-guard and provide the Spartans offense with an outside threat to space defenders.
With only three attempts against a UCLA team that looked tired late in the game, it’s important not to get too excited about Brown’s success. But with his length and shooting ability, the Spartans offense could prevent a long list of problems for anyone hoping to focus on just Winston.
Another note to take from Wednesday’s win was the strong play of Malik Hall. The Freshman, who has earned his increased role in the MSU rotation, killed UCLA off the dribble and repeatedly got to the foul line. Hall scored six of his eight points from the charity strike, making all of his attempts.
The Spartans will head back to East Lansing for the Thanksgiving weekend. They will need the time to rest up, turning around to play Duke at the Breslin Center on Tuesday. This will be the second time the two programs have seen each other in the calendar year, after playing the instant classic last season in the Elite Eight.