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Winston scores 28, No. 10 Michigan State beats Rutgers 71-60
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Xavier Tillman got off to a shaky start, filling in for Nick Ward in the starting lineup for No. 10 Michigan State.
Tillman finished strong, scoring a career-high 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, and Cassius Winston had 28 points help the short-handed Spartans come back to beat Rutgers 71-60 Wednesday night.
“It’s going to bring our team closer together,” coach Tom Izzo said. “Whether we’ll have enough, I don’t know. We’ll find out, but I’m not counting us out.”
Michigan State missed Ward and Joshua Langford on offense against defensive-minded Rutgers. Ward had hand surgery Sunday and Langford had season-ending foot surgery earlier this month, taking more than 30 points out of Izzo’s lineup.
Tillman, in particular, made the most of his opportunity.
“It builds tremendous confidence,” he said. “But Sunday, we have to get off to a much better start. This was a big win for us.”
The Spartans (22-5, 13-3 Big Ten) moved a half-game ahead of No. 7 Michigan and No. 15 Purdue in the Big Ten standings. They will play against the Wolverines on the road Sunday.
Michigan State started 0 of 6 and trailed 32-35 at halftime after making just 30 percent of its shots. The Scarlet Knights led by 11 points early in the second half before Tillman had six straight points and Michigan State’s best chance to score was off offensive rebounds.
“I thought we were getting in a little bit of a groove,” Rutgers guard Geo Baker said after scoring 17 points. “It felt good, but we were playing on the road and that team can explode at any time.”
Matt McQuaid made a game-tying 3-pointer with 12:39 left after Michigan State’s fourth offensive rebound of the possession. Winston made a go-ahead layup the next time the Spartans had the ball and they ended up coasting to a double-digit victory.
“The game was won because we rebounded,” said Izzo, referring to his team’s 45-31 edge on the boards.
McQuaid, the only player on the team who shot well early in the game, scored 11 points and Kenny Goins had five points and 12 rebounds. Kyle Ahrens, who has been in and out of the lineup with injuries, limped off the court after aggravating his back injury in the second half.
Ron Harper had 11 points for the Scarlet Knights (12-14, 5-11) as they lost for the fifth time in six games.
“We just have to stay positive,” Baker said. “We’re a really young team and we have to learn how to win.”
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights compete hard in the Big Ten, but they don’t have enough scorers to win consistently in the highly competitive conference. They connected on fewer than 40 percent of their shots against the Spartans.
“Our numbers offensively are up over last year,” said coach Steve Pikiell, adding he’s counting on four freshmen to play regularly.
Michigan State: Tillman didn’t score until 5:39 left in the first half, but the sophomore forward scored the last basket of the first half and had six straight points early in the second half to cut the Spartans’ deficit to five.
“Xavier had some problems in the first half,” Izzo said. “I thought he did a helluva job in the second half.”
Winston complemented his scoring by finishing with eight assists.
“Cassius is the best point guard in the league and he played like it,” Pikiell said.
Rutgers: Host Minnesota on Sunday night.
Michigan State: Plays at Michigan on Sunday.
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The Zion Williamson Era, unfortunately, peaked on the first day of the season
Duke never got better.
They peaked, quite literally, on the first day of the season, a 118-84 beatdown of then-No. 2 Kentucky that many of us, myself included, just could not get out of our heads.
That team was the best team in the country on that day, and there isn’t a soul on the planet that would argue that fact rationally. But the reason that a roster featuring Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones got bounced in the Elite Eight — after they should have been bounced in the second round and could have been bounced in the Sweet 16 — is because the team they were that day is the team they were on Sunday, when Michigan State sent them back to Durham, 68-67.
Duke never got better.
College basketball caught up.
It’s not the first time that head coach Mike Krzyzewski has struggled to find a way to make a roster full of uber-talented freshmen work. Early exits from the NCAA tournament have become fairly common for the Blue Devils, but I’ll stop short of criticizing the man for losing by one point to the team that won both the regular season and tournament titles in the toughest conference in the country. It’s the same reason I refused to criticize Duke for failing to get to the Final Four last year, when Grayson Allen’s game-winning jumper pulled an Aubrey Dawkins and rolled off the wrong side of the rim.
In a one-game knockout events, the margins really are that fine.
That said, Coach K is not beyond reproach for the way that he managed this team and this season.
I will go to my grave saying that the best lineup that Duke could have put out on the floor featured Zion Williamson at the five. He can protect the rim. He’s not going to get beaten on the block by many, if any, college bigs. He’s a terrific defensive rebounder that can grab-and-go with the best of them. Would that have put him at risk of getting into foul trouble? Probably. Would he have worn down more quickly playing the five? Maybe. But it is frustrating that we didn’t end up getting more of Williamson at the five.
And, frankly, there is a reason for that.
Duke’s perimeter options never showed up the way Duke needed them to. the 0-for-10 performance that Jack White posted against Syracuse damaged his confidence so badly that he wouldn’t hit another three for nearly seven weeks, and he was the guy that could have made a difference. He was big enough to help shoulder the load in the paint. He could protect the rim. He was a better perimeter defender than some folks realize. And, in theory, he could shoot. His regression was another part of the long-term problem for this group.
And if we’re being honest, “in theory, he could shoot” is more or less a perfect way to sum up everyone on this Duke team.
Because the whole they-can’t-make-threes conundrum never went away. Duke finished the season 327th nationally in three-point percentage. Cam Reddish, who frustrated everyone until the final seconds of the season, ended the year with a lower three-point percentage than Williamson. R.J. Barrett ended the year shooting 30.8 percent, which was significantly higher than either White or Tre Jones shot. Their best shooter, Alex O’Connell, wasn’t strong enough with the ball or good enough defensively to earn consistent minutes. For him to see the court, one of the star freshmen had to sit or Duke had to roll with a frontline of Williamson, Barrett and Reddish, and Coach K wasn’t having that.
Perhaps the biggest indictment was that Williamson, once again, went the final three possessions without getting a shot off. It’s the same thing that happened in the loss to Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational.
Like I said, Duke never got better.
It wasn’t all bad for Coach K.
For the majority of the year, he actually schemed up some pretty good sets to create just enough space to allow Barrett and Williamson to get downhill going left. He won a couple of games by the timely switching of defenses. He had everyone in the program on the same page, playing together and playing hard and caring about each other. In the one-and-done era, that’s not the easiest thing to do.
But this season will be remembered for the fact that Duke never figured out an answer to their flaws.
And they never changed the things that needed changing.
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