For the second time in a little over a week, Michigan State and Michigan played with a championship on the line. And, the result was once again the same, with the Spartans coming away victorious. The win clinched the sixth Big Ten Tournament title for Michigan State, the most of any team.
Cassius Winston made an incredible driving layup to give MSU the lead at 62-60, and that would prove to be the difference in the game.
Just like the first two games between these teams, the Spartans were able to mount a second half comeback to pull out the win. Matt McQuaid carried the Spartans offense with a barrage of three-pointers. Cassius Winston consistently found the senior for open looks and McQuaid did his best to make as many of them as he could. The senior finished the game with a career high 27 points.
Cassius Winston also turned on his game in the second half, driving, scooping, scoring and going to the ground on several occasions. He finished with another double-double with 14 points and 11 assists.
Xavier Tillman also played a huge role, pulling down rebounds on both ends of the floor and playing his usual stellar defense.
With the win the Spartans also became the first team in the rivalry to beat the other team three times in a single season.
The Spartans fell behind in the first half, when Michigan closed the half on a 20-6 run, all of it with Tillman on the bench. Iggy Brazdeikis was hot early for the Wolverines, and MSU had no answer for him on the offensive end.
But after going down by double digits early in the second half, Michigan State once again put the clamps on and clawed their way back into it.
The win was not without consequence though for Michigan State. Kyle Ahrens came down awkwardly on his left foot and collapsed in a heap on the floor in the first half. Ahrens was stretchered off after several minutes on the ground while the training staff put a temporary cast on his left ankle.
Several Spartan players, and Coach Tom Izzo could be seen crying while watching the scene.
Izzo said after yesterday’s game that he didn’t think Ahrens was likely to be able to play at all today due to his nagging back injury that has plagued him throughout the season. Ahrens went through pre-game warm-ups, and started the game in the tunnel working on a stationary bike. He came running down the tunnel to check in for the first time and promptly hit a three.
The loss of Ahrens is a big one for the Spartans, who are already thin in their rotation due to the myriad of injuries that the team has dealt with throughout the season. Losing Ahrens in a game of questionable stakes for MSU is a very tough pill to swallow.
Now the Spartans will sit back and await their seeding for the NCAA Tournament. The win, coupled with some other results this weekend, could find Michigan State on the one line. They certainly have to feel like they did everything they could in the last few weeks to show the committee they are deserving of that.