For the better part of 40 minutes, it was impossible to avoid flashbacks to 2016. However, the Michigan State Spartans did just enough to get by the Bradley Braves in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Throughout the game, the lead swung back and forth. Both teams held and lost leads of at least six points. But a gutsy game out of Cassius Winston, who was not playing his best, helped the Spartans to a 76-65 win in Des Moines.
Michigan State had an opportunity midway through the second half to seemingly put away the Missouri Valley tournament champions. Up seven, Aaron Henry attempted to save a loose ball after blocking a shot, but threw it back in to a Bradley player. The ball found Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye who hit a three. The in-bounds pass was then stolen away as Winston turned up court too early, resulting in a quick layup. Another MSU turnover turned into a Bradley three and Bradley earned a one-point lead.
“When we were seven or eight up, that was the first time I saw Cassius collapse,” head coach Tom Izzo said after the game. Izzo said the whole team appeared to be struggling after the Big Ten Tournament.
Fortunately, Winston and Xavier Tillman came alive in the final 10 minutes to earn the victory.
Winston finished with a game-high 26 points. Tillman added 16, with 10 more coming from Matt McQuaid. They were the only three Spartans in double-digits. On the other end of things, Kenny Goins went 1-10 from the field, including 0-7 from three. Nick Ward finished with eight points, but was limited in playing time.
Aaron Henry found himself on the wrong end of an angry Izzo, who met the player on the court to start the yelling. Henry struggled throughout the game, but was able to score four points in the final three-minutes to help secure the win.
“Hey, he’s playing a lot of minutes too, he’s tired too. But when you’re a freshman now, you don’t make those mistakes,” Izzo said of Henry. “This is one and done time, you know. The ‘my bads’ are out the window.”
Despite the hard coaching, Izzo said he was proud of his team’s win. But wasn’t willing to extend that feeling much beyond the end of the game.
“I’m not giving my team enough credit, I know what we’ve been through. You’re damn right I’m proud of them.” Izzo said. Then in the next breath said “We didn’t show the same mental toughness.”
With the win, the Spartans move on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where they will see a familiar face. Earlier in the day, Minnesota pulled the minor upset, beating Louisville. The two Big Ten teams will play Saturday afternoon in Des Moines. For MSU, it’s a chance to return to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in four season.