Michigan State advanced to the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament with a 77-70 win over Ohio State, but the game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would suggest.
The Spartans built a 20 point second half lead on the back of Cassius Winston and…Foster Loyer. The two Spartan point guards combined for 32 points and carried the team to its third victory of the season over the Buckeyes.
The first half was a typical one for Michigan State as of late. They got off to a slow start and were plagued by turnovers early on. The spark didn’t come until Loyer entered the game after Winston turned it over on back to back possessions.
“I did not think we had the energy and the focus and the passion that was needed,” said Tom Izzo. “I was disappointed with that throughout the game.”
From there Loyer started knocking down threes, three of them to be exact, and helped pull the Spartans back even and eventually gave them the lead. He also drew a charge and was as engaged and fired up as he has been all season.
“He looked so smooth and comfortable tonight, and definitely saved us in the first half,” said Izzo, “he came in and made some big, big, big, big plays.”
“He played really well, give him credit,” said Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann, “I thought his threes gave them real life.”
The nine first half points equaled the total amount of points that Loyer scored in the entire Big Ten regular season.
The fact that Loyer was able to come up big not only helped the Spartans win the game, but it also provided Cassius Winston with some much needed rest. Izzo revealed after the game that Winston had been dealing with a toe injury he suffered during the Michigan game.
“Cassius has been a little laid up since the Michigan game,” said Izzo, “he hadn’t practiced Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.”
Winston logged just over 22 minutes in the win over the Buckeyes, his fewest in a game this season, and the first time he played less than 30 minutes in a game since February 9th, when MSU beat Minnesota.
Winston appreciated the break in minutes, but even more than that, appreciated what his teammate was able to do in his stead.
“He (Winston) was his (Loyer’s) big, big, biggest cheerleader, and at one time even told me to leave him in,” said Izzo of his star point guard. “That shows you a little bit of the quality of kid Cassius is.”
“To have a guy like that, he can step in and play like that, that’s really big,” said Winston.
“When I was succeeding out there, Cassius had my back and was cheering for me, and when he was succeeding I was doing the same thing for him,” said Loyer. “It was special from a teammate stand point.”
Loyer finished the game with a career high 14 points, including four three-pointers. He also added three assists and a pair of steals.
Winston ended up with a typical Winston stat line of 18 points, five assists, and seven rebounds. He turned it over four times, but was able to crack down on that after the rough start.
In addition to Loyer’s big game, the other story of the day was the return of Nick Ward. The Spartan big man had been out since February 12th with a hand injury. Ward played with a large wrap on his left shooting hand, but didn’t seem too bothered by it.
Foul trouble limited his minutes somewhat, but Ward played a little over 14 minutes and chipped in eight points, two rebounds, a block and a steal. He knocked down his first shot, a face up jumper from about 15 feet.
“I thought Nick did a phenomenal job considering he hasn’t practiced but two times in three and a half weeks,” said Izzo. “I thought he played pretty much within himself, got enough minutes where we got him some time.”
“I’m at 85 percent so I’m feeling pretty good,” said Ward of his conditioning level as he tries to get back into game shape.
“His second bucket in the first half I was like ‘He’s back’ cause he just looked comfortable,” said Xavier Tillman of his teammates return to action.
On what the return of Ward means for him and his frontcourt partners Tillman said, “It’s nice because if I’m tired or if Kenny’s tired or one of us gets in foul trouble we have somebody that can come in for us.”
Tillman started the game over Ward, but found himself in some early foul trouble, and just like he said, Ward was able to come in and help carry the load.
With the win the Spartans advance to the Big Ten semi-finals tomorrow afternoon against either Nebraska or Wisconsin. The win also kept the Spartans perfect in quarterfinal matchups against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament.