LSJ columnist Graham Couch and Detroit Freep beat writer Chris Solari break down the Spartans’ 22-point win over the Hawkeyes
Graham Couch and Chris Solari, Lansing State Journal
EAST LANSING — Cassius Winston rose up for the 3-pointer and got knocked to the ground.
No foul got called as he banged knees with Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon, and play went the other direction after the ball clanged off the rim.
But Michigan State’s junior point guard remained sitting on the floor for a few seconds as his teammates played 5-on-4 basketball. He slowly worked his way back on the defensive end and tugged at his shorts after a foul stopped the clock.
Winston slowly walked back to the sideline as Foster Loyer replaced him, taking a seat without visiting the trainer.
He was not hurt, he said later, just exhausted.
“Sometimes, it gets a little extended,” Winston said of his playing stretches. “But it’s all right. I’m conditioned, and I’ve been ready for this for a long time.”
But that sequence in the 10th-ranked Spartans’ 90-68 win over No. 18 Iowa showed Winston continues to learn about how far he can push his body and how long he can go without a rest.
With Matt McQuaid out for the third straight game, Winston played 30 minutes and finished with a season-low eight points but a season-high 12 assists and just one turnover. It was the fourth game in a row and sixth time in the young season the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Winston has topped 30 minutes in a game.
“Cassius is the guy I’m worried about,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said, “because we’re kind of playing him into the ground right now. So he was tired.”
Izzo also expressed some concern over Joshua Langford’s increased workload as well with McQuaid out. The 6-5 junior played 31 minutes – also his fourth straight of eclipsing 30 minutes — and scored 14 points on 5 of 13 shooting Monday.
Winston is now averaging 16.8 points and 7.7 assists in 30.9 minutes per game. He made just 2 of 9 shots against the Hawkeyes and is shooting just 38.3 percent (18 of 47) from the floor over his ironman four-game stretch.
“We’ve been playing a lot of games in a little amount of time, so you know that wears,” he said. “But other than that, I’m gonna be ready for each game and play as hard as I can. They do a good job of getting me out in TV timeouts and stuff like that. …
“You just learn how to be smarter. Sometimes I gotta switch off a guy for 2 minutes, if he’s involved in a lot of action in the offense and give him to somebody else and then maybe just take a play off. Just things like that — just learning how to get your little rest. You learning from being out there.”
The Spartans continued to be without senior guard McQuaid, who dressed and went through warmups but did not play for the third straight game with a severe thigh bruise.
Izzo said he did not think the 6-4 guard even would have been able to do that much Sunday. However, he was cautious to consider McQuaid ready to return for Saturday’s game at Florida (noon/CBS).
“The trainer told me every day that things could improve a lot,” Izzo said. “Well, It improved a lot from (Sunday) to today. But again, if he does (play), it’ll be as a minimum, I think, unless he has some remarkable recovery tomorrow again which could happen.”
McQuaid’s replacement, junior Kyle Ahrens, struggled early against Iowa and injured his hip shortly before halftime. He went scoreless on 0 for 3 shooting but had three rebounds, three steals and an assist with four fouls in 19 minutes.
“He hurt that hip early, just bruised that, too, so that’ll be a sting tomorrow,” Izzo said. “I guess it was his lower back. He wasn’t as good as he’s been.”
Junior forward Nick Ward injured his already-taped left wrist on a hard fall not even 3 minutes into the game, stayed in to shoot free throws and then check out and visited the trainer. He returned a little later with a bit more green tape securing his wrist and finished with a career-high 26 points on 10 of 10 shooting.
“They put a pad on my wrist, and I’m good,” Ward said.
For the second straight game, MSU committed just two first-half turnovers, both of them early before reclaiming the lead for good at the midpoint of the half.
Winston, Langford and Kenny Goins each had one, while Nick Ward had a team-high three. The other two came during reserve time from backup point guard Foster Loyer and big man Thomas Kithier.
The Spartans finished with eight turnovers for the game after committing just seven against Rutgers in Friday’s Big Ten-opening road win.
“I’m trying to get our guys to understand the value of it,” said Izzo, whose team committed 11 giveaways in the first half against Texas and Louisville.
MSU also had 28 assists on 31 made baskets, which Izzo called “unbelievable.”
“It shows how unselfish this team is,” Winston said. “Sometimes it’s giving up a good shot for a great shot, just moving that ball and having fun out there. Everybody’s getting touches, everybody’s moving the ball and getting assists. It’s really fun to play like that.”
Izzo in recent years has called his walk-ons and end-of-bench guys his “Iron Mountain Group.”
This year’s mop-up unit has a new nickname: “The Rat Pack.” That group Monday included Loyer, Kithier, freshmen Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham Jr., sophomore Braden Burke, junior Conner George and redshirt freshman Jack Hoiberg.
“I mean we had (six turnovers) with 4 minutes left to go in the game, and the Rat Pack came in and turned it over a little bit,” Izzo said. “But then again, those guys deserve to play.”
Hoiberg’s father, Fred, was fired earlier in the day as head coach of the Chicago Bulls. Izzo said he was hoping to get the 5-11 guard a basket, but he missed his only shot attempt.
“Been a rough day for him,” Izzo said.