Cassius Winston sat for the majority of the first 20 minutes with 2 fouls and the Hokies were able to take a 4 point lead going into the half against top 5 ranked Michigan State. It was made incredibly clear the impact Winston has on Izzo’s team when he’s on and off the court. Sparty was searching for answers on offense and they lacked reliable ball handlers and passers on the wings. Aaron Henry and Rocket Watts struggled holding onto the ball and running the offense with 3 and 4 turnovers a piece, as MSU lost the ball 11 times in the first half, compared to just 6 for Tech. As I said in the preview, if the Hokies can slow down Winston and make everybody else beat them, the Hokies will have a chance to take this one down to the wire. Winston finished with just 7 points, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers on the night.
As the 2nd half unfolded, no team could manage to gain much separation, with either side only able to distance themselves by no more than 4 points throughout. Finally, Tech managed to breakthrough by way of a few missed shots and turnovers on the MSU side. Closing in on the 6 minute mark, the Hokies took it down and whipped 5 consecutive passes, with Nolley finding Cattoor at the top of the key for 3, to put the Hokies up 54-49. Winston goes down and misses an open look, and Bede follows it up with an And-1 lay up but misses the free throw, to go up 56-49, and Nolley hits a 3 after a Tillman turnover to push the lead to double digits, the largest lead for either team.
With 3:50 to go, the Hokies were up 59-52, with Landers Nolley at the line for 1 and 1 off a Malik Hall foul. Nolley hit both to get it back up to 9. MSU went on a run to get it back to a two point game with 1:55 remaining as Young calls timeout to calm everybody down. Hokies take some time on their next offensive possession before Nolley finishes in the paint to go up 4. With under 90 seconds to go, Tillman drives and dishes to Henry for a wide open 3 to get it within 1 point. Hokies come back with under a minute, and Nolley calmly bangs a 3 to go up 4 points with 47.5 seconds remaining. An “Ice Water 3” as Jay Bilas said on the broadcast. MSU calls timeout and Nolley in the huddle can be heard telling them to let MSU shoot jumpers and to avoid fouling them. Ahrens gets an easy baseline two and Winston automatically fouls Bede with 37.6 seconds left to extend the game. Double bonus the rest of the way, it came down to free throws and stops for the Hokies. Bede makes the first but misses the 2nd to go up 3. Winston forces a shot and misses, with Bede grabbing a huge rebound with 24.5 seconds to go and gets fouled, earning another pair of free throws. Bede misses the first free throw to put the pressure on, but he makes the 2nd. Now a 2 possession game, Winston passed to Tillman for 3, and he misses. Exactly what you want if you are the Hokies. You live with a Tillman 3 point attempt in crunch time 100% of the time. Bede grabbed yet another rebound, and went to the line yet again, and yet again, he missed the first. Clearly frustrated, Cattoor gets in his ear for some encouragement, and Bede calmly knocks down the second. 5 point game, and Henry misses a final 3 point attempt that bounces off the rim, landing in the hands of the Hokies… just a massive victory for Mike Young, the staff, and players. Incredible effort. Nolley finished with 22 for the game, and the Hokies had 5 players in double figures. Michigan State’s star guard, Cassius Winston, was held to 7 points, 10 points below his season average. The Hokies are now 6-0 and play 4-0 Dayton tomorrow at 8PM on ESPN in the semi’s of the Maui Invitational.