Edson: Izzo Proves He’s As Good As Ever

Where were all the naysayers on Sunday evening when the short-handed Michigan State Spartans marched into Crisler Arena and stole a 77-70 victory in a first-place battle with Michigan?

The naysayers have been saying that Hall of Fame Spartans coach Tom Izzo hasn’t been up to par the last couple years. That, of course, is ridiculous talk from people who really don’t understand the ebb and flow of college basketball.

Take Sunday’s game for example. Izzo simply took a chapter out of former coach Jud Heathcote’s handbook. That’s the chapter where you simply put the ball in the hands of your best player and let him control the game.

Heathcote had great success with that theory as players like Magic Johnson, Scott Skiles and Steve Smith led the way.

With two of Izzo’s best three players out of Sunday’s game- Nick Ward and Josh Langford – Izzo simply put Cassius Winston up to the task.

The junior guard controlled the game with 27 points, eight assists and only three turnovers. He played all 40 minutes.

He didn’t do it alone, of course. Kenny Goins scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Xavier Tillman added 14 points and Matt McQuaid 13. But Winston was the catalyst.

He had to be after Michigan grabbed a 51-45 lead with 15 minutes remaining and the Crisler Arena crowd going wild.

How did the Spartans respond to this adversity? They went on a 25-9 run to take control of the game.

That leaves Michigan State at 23-5 overall and 14-3 in the Big Ten. Michigan is 24-4 and 13-4. Purdue is also in the mix with three conference games left.

So the Big Ten title is still up for grabs and there is time for coach John Beilein’s Wolverines to recover. But they have to find answers to their minor struggles during the second half of the season.

Tom Izzo knows he must ride the hot hand of Cassius Winston.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.