Michigan State was tested for the first time at home this season, but in the end, it was too much Cassius Winston. The No. 6 Spartans (14-2, 4-0 Big Ten) topped Purdue (9-6, 2-2 Big Ten) 77-59 with the junior point guard from Detroit stealing the show, scoring 23 on 7-of-14 shooting.
“That’s what great players do,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said, of Winston’s performance.
Purdue’s star guard Carsen Edwards, who Izzo called “perhaps the best player in the country” on Monday, was held to 11 points on 3-of-16 shooting, both season lows for the Atascocita, Texas native.
“Nothing really (felt different),” Edwards said postgame. “It’s just some mistakes we made, some shots weren’t going our way. That’s all it was, really.”
The second half was marred by a lack of flow, with 27 fouls being called combined. Players on both teams, and the partial Breslin Center crowd, made their displeasure known.
After a stretch where three fouls were called in three seconds with 5:43 remaining in the game, MSU went on the run that eventually ended the game. Sophomore forward Xavier Tillman made two free throws, Winston drained a massive triple at the shot clock buzzer, and a frustrated Breslin Center exhaled.
“I think part of the reason is all the experience we have,” Izzo said. “You got Kenny out there, Nick, Cassius, (Ahrens), (McQuaid), seniors and juniors. They’ve been through wars, they’ve been through these games like this. Finding ways to win is a very important part of this whole deal.”
Freshman forward Trevion Williams led the Boilermakers with 13 points and 12 rebounds in a strong effort off the bench.
“We fought really hard to not be competitive. We didn’t come in here to put up a good fight, we came in here to win,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said postgame. “Tonight wasn’t good enough. They were physically and mentally tougher than we were.”
A frenetic start to the game was highlighted, or perhaps low lighted, by five Spartan turnovers before the first media timeout. Purdue led 9-2 early, with a clear emphasis on getting into MSU guards early in possessions. The tide turned thanks to strong shooting from the outside, with McQuaid, senior forward Kenny Goins, and freshman guard Gabe Brown knocking down consecutive triples.
“We weren’t sharp early. We win the tip, and watch the ball go out of bounds,” Izzo said. “To (his team’s) credit though, we bounced back the second half of the first half.”
The Spartans led 39-26 at halftime after a 12-2 burst to end the half, spearheaded by Winston’s dominance in semi-transition. He shook sophomore guard Nojel Eastern for a three, stutter-stepped past him for a bucket on the next possession, then drew two fouls from the young Evanston, Illinois native in the final minute of the half.
“(I have to) just keep pushing at them, you know what I’m saying?” Winston said. “If you wanna battle me, constantly beat me up or anything like that, I’m gonna keep pushing. Let’s see if you can do it the whole time I’m out there.”
MSU shut down Edwards in the first half, limiting him to 5 points on 2-of-8 shooting, largely thanks to the persistent defense of senior guard Matt McQuaid.
“McQuaid’s a good player,” Edwards said. “I don’t think there was anything that had me off-balance, just shots didn’t fall for me.”
A 12-2 run by the Boilermakers midway through the second half cut the Spartans’ lead to four, and the Spartan will was tested. The response was emphatic, leading to the 18-point margin of victory.
MSU heads to Penn State to take on the 7-8 Nittany Lions Sunday afternoon in State College, Pennsylvania, while Purdue heads to Wisconsin Friday night.