In what came as a complete shock to no one, the Big Ten Tournament semi-final between Michigan State and Wisconsin was a grind it out battle from start to finish. Michigan State pulled out the win 67-55, but never really seemed to pull away until the last few minutes.
“It was a grind of a game, I say that every time I play Wisconsin and that hasn’t changed. It’s a part of the culture they have,” said Tom Izzo.
“It was a battle,” said Cassius Winston.
The key to the win for Michigan State was a hot start, which was a point of emphasis after coming out of the gates slowly yesterday.
“We were upset with the way we started yesterday,” said Izzo.
“It was good to see that because he (Izzo) put it high on the board and it was good to see that he was challenging us as people and as players to see how we can respond,” said Aaron Henry.
MSU got out to an early ten point lead thanks to some hot three-point shooting from Kenny Goins and Matt McQuaid. It also helped the Spartan cause that Wisconsin really struggled with their outside shooting, as the Badgers went just 2-for-19 from beyond the arc.
“I thought the difference in the game early we made all our shots and they missed some wide open shots,” said Izzo.
“We could never overcome the start and couldn’t get back after they got hot at the beginning,” said Wisconsin Coach Gregg Gard. “We really struggled from the perimeter, even though we had some pretty good looks,” Gard said of his team.
Michigan State also had to grind out the game while dealing with injuries to seemingly everybody on the roster. Josh Langford is still getting around with a scooter, Nick Ward’s hand is heavily wrapped, Kyle Ahrens back locked up on him again, and Cassius Winston is dealing with multiple injuries.
“We’re wearing down a little bit to be very blunt and honest with you,” Izzo said of his team. But he went on to challenge his guys to overcome it. “If you learn how to play through things that most people would fold the table on, that’s going to help you in life.”
Winston’s latest injury occurred right before halftime, when he rolled his ankle, on a different foot from the one he had been nursing a toe injury. His status for the rest of the game was up in the air.
“Cash has been on adrenaline for a while now and at halftime I really didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Izzo.
Winston finished the game with 21 points and six assists, both game highs. He played 28 minutes, his second straight game playing fewer than 30 minutes, the first time that has happened since the start of the 2019 calendar year.
“I asked him if he could grit it out in the second half and you know what, he gritted it out so I was pleased with him,” Izzo said of his star point guard.
Despite the array of injuries, Izzo said his team will be ready to play tomorrow, regardless of who is out on the floor.
“Tomorrow we will be ready to play, and whoever plays will play, and we’re going to play as hard as we can play, and see what happens,” Izzo said.
“We are playing for a championship, so we are going to be full go tomorrow,” said Cassius Winston.
If they can pull it off, it would be sixth Big Ten Tournament for Michigan State, the most of any school. And it would be the fourth time that the Spartans won both the regular season, and conference tournaments.
As for the opponent tomorrow, it doesn’t matter who it is to Xavier Tillman.
“I don’t have a preference,” said Tillman.
On the possibility of facing Michigan for the third time in three weeks?
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” Tillman said.
Somehow I don’t quite believe him.