EAST LANSING — Tom Izzo is used to the big stage, more than most. He’s helped raise more Final Four banners by himself than 11 of the 13 other Big Ten schools have in their entire existence.
He’s won a national championship, been the runner up in another, and won eight regular-season titles.
Tonight was no different; the stage was set when Minnesota was able to upset Purdue earlier in the week. A winner-take-all Saturday night showdown against Michigan at the Breslin Center.
The Spartans had another opportunity, but the Wolverines didn’t make it easy.
Michigan State looked out of sync when the game began — committing two early turnovers which helped Michigan push the lead. The Wolverines had hit 12 of their first 20 shots, with Brazdeikis and Poole pushing the pace.
At one point the two had outscored the entire MSU offense. Their offense wouldn’t slow down, and it looked like it could get worse when Winston was forced to sit with two fouls.
“I thought my three best players, four best players were all in the fog,” said Izzo. “Part of that was Michigan and part of that was us.”
Fortunately for Spartan fans, Brazdeikis and Livers collected a couple of fouls of their own, which meant they would see the bench for the majority of the first half.
Michigan State managed to string enough offense together and close in on Michigan’s lead. Unsung heroes like Xavier Tillman and Kyle Ahrens helped motivate and energize their teammates, which kept MSU in the game up until halftime.
“I thought what won us the game was only being down six at halftime,” said Izzo.
When the second half began, energy leaked back into the Breslin Center (it was the loudest I had it heard in quite some time), and it looked like the team ate it up. They proceeded to go on a tumultuous 19-4 run, and the Spartans saw an 8-point deficit turn into a 7-point lead in less than ten minutes.
Shortly after, Brazdeikis, who was killing Michigan State nearly every time he touched the ball fouled out with 5:10 remaining, essentially sealing the victory for MSU.
“They came out really hot and I felt like they was hitting everything,” said Winston. “We just told ourselves, at the end of the day we got to stop them. We can’t let them get shots.”
The Spartans found a way to slow down the shooting onslaught and forced Michigan into some dangerous situations. The Wolverines would shoot just 31.3% from the field in the second half and saw themselves get outrebounded 26-12.
Winston would continue to take over the latter part of the game scoring 16 of his 23 points during the second and banking in a three-pointer to give the Spartans their first lead since they were down 0-2 after tip-off.
He didn’t stop there. Multiple layups and assists later he had Michigan State in the drivers seat and up by 13 points. A game that most likely clinched the Big Ten Player of the Year Award and a night where he led his team to another title — beating Michigan twice in two weeks was icing on the cake for MSU.
“I think it will go down as one of the more special ones, just because of the fact that it was the last game for a championship against your rival on senior night,” said Izzo. “It kind of fills all the boxes.”