The senior scored 27 points to help the 16th-ranked Spartans beat No. 19 Ohio State 80-69 on Sunday to win a third straight Big Ten championship. “It means the world to have my whole family come and see me in my last home game and to go out like that," he said. “It's an amazing feeling."
Winston was able to celebrate the end of the regular season, nearly four months after the death of his brother. “I could not have done what he did," coach Tom Izzo said. Michigan State (22-9, 14-6 Big Ten) shared the conference title with No. 9 Maryland and No. 24 Wisconsin. The Spartans will be the second-seeded team at the Big Ten Tournament behind the Badgers, with the Terrapins seeded third.
The Buckeyes (21-10, 11-9) had won four straight and six of their previous seven games, but they let Michigan State make 54% of its shots in the second half to pull away. “We just couldn't get enough stops when we needed to," coach Chris Holtmann said.
Ohio State's leading scorer, Kaleb Wesson, was held to eight points on 1-of-8 shooting after entering the day averaging 14-plus points per game. “Wesson is a load down low," Izzo said. “We put a lot into trying to stop him. We didn’t stop him, but we semi-neutralized him."
Duane Washington had 16 points, CJ Walker scored 14, E.J. Liddell had 12 and Luther Muhammad added 10 points for the Buckeyes. Michigan State was in control of much of the evening and pulled away with a 16-4 run late in the game.
Rocket Watts scored 19 points, Xavier Tillman had 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals while Aaron Henry added 12 points for the Spartans. “They had toughness and they hit the floor first," Walker said.
TIED AT THE TOP The Badgers clinched a share of the Big Ten title with a victory Saturday at Indiana and will be the top-seeded team in Indianapolis. The Terrapins beat No. 25 Michigan earlier on Sunday to also earn a share of the championship.
BIG PICTURE Ohio State: The Buckeyes should get a boost in the postseason with the expected return of Kyle Young, who missed his fourth straight game with a high ankle sprain. The junior forward, who has a protective boot on his right foot, averages seven-plus points and nearly six rebounds per game.
“We've won games with a short bench," Holtmann said. Michigan State: The Spartans are playing their best late in the season as they usually have done over 25 seasons for their Hall of Fame coach. They started the season ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history and seem to have some momentum going into the postseason.
POLL IMPLICATIONS The surging Spartans will likely move up in the poll on Monday with their fifth straight win and sixth win in seven games. The Buckeyes will probably hold onto a spot toward the bottom of the AP Top 25.
SENIOR DAY Winston was honored along with fellow seniors Josh Langford, Kyle Ahrens and former walk-on Conner George. Langford, who missed the year with a foot injury, has not announced if he will return for a fifth season, transfer to another school or play professionally.
When Izzo mentioned Langford during the Senior Day ceremony, the fans let the shooting guard know they want him back. “One more year! One more year!" the fans chanted. BANNER NIGHT Izzo isn't afraid to show his emotions and did it again, choking back tears and pausing while addressing fans after winning the Big Ten title for the 10th time.
“It’s the third year in a row that we’re playing here for a championship," he said. “And there is nothing in the entire world I like more than hanging banners.” HE SAID IT “They should do that after the game,” Holtmann told an official, complaining about how long it was taking the Spartans' seniors to check out for the final time at Breslin Center.
Hours after the game ended Sunday night, Holtmann reached out to The Associated Press to clarify why he was frustrated late in the game. “Tom apologized in the postgame line for how long the last two minutes of the game took,” Holtmann said. “He didn't have to do that. I took no issue with the kissing of the floor tradition. Those seniors have certainly earned it.
“To be honest, I think I was just frustrated with the loss and I was anxious to get to the locker room with our team. That is why I communicated that to the official. I can certainly be more gracious in defeat. All the best to MSU moving forward.”
UP NEXT Ohio State: Goes to the conference tournament, trying to improve its seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State: Shoots to repeat as Big Ten Tournament champion.
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