No. 8 Spartans seek perfect homestand vs. Gophers
Momentum is clearly building at Michigan State after the Spartans rolled over rival Michigan on Sunday behind a career-high 32 points from senior point guard Cassius Winston.
The No. 8 Spartans (12-3, 4-0 Big Ten) have won seven in a row and enter another week of Big Ten play as the only unbeaten team in the conference as they wrap up a five-game home stand at 9 p.m. ET Thursday against Minnesota.
However, if the early results are any indication, it doesn't appear there will be many easy nights in the Big Ten this season, as Michigan State follows the Minnesota game by traveling to Purdue on Sunday.
"You look at where we are, and this is a big week," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told reporters. "And it seems like I'm going to say that every week."
Big because the Spartans are getting set to take on Minnesota (8-6, 2-2), which has won four of its last five, including a home win over Ohio State, with the only loss coming in double overtime on the road against Purdue.
Six-foot-10 sophomore Daniel Oturu is second in the Big Ten in scoring at 19.1 points a game and leads the conference in rebounding with 12.4 a game. Oturu, whom Izzo said "has been a beast," has nine double-doubles this season. In Sunday's victory over Northwestern he had 19 points, 16 rebounds and matched a career high with five blocks.
"I feel like I shoot the ball better this year, and I don't lack confidence in that area," Oturu said. "I also am more physical down low. I feel overall I am playing a lot harder in games this year, and that has been a big boost to help me."
The Gophers are also getting solid play from sophomore guard Marcus Carr, a transfer from Pittsburgh who is scoring 15.9 points a game and is handing out 6.9 assists.
"Carr has probably been the surprise of the league," Izzo said. "He's been an electrifying point guard, can shoot a three. He's kind of like a Mateen Cleaves, (but) stronger. He actually seeks and enjoys contact. He'll get to the rack a lot, and he's shooting a ton of free throws."
Carr has the attention of the Spartans, who will be favored but aren't about to rest on what they've accomplished to this point.
Winston has been outstanding since missing a game because of a bone bruise in his left knee on Dec. 29. He earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors after averaging better than 26 points in wins over Illinois and Michigan and was also named the Naismith Player of the Week.
Along with the steady play of junior big man Xavier Tillman -- he had 20 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks in the win over Michigan -- and the continued development of young sophomore wings Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown, the Spartans are trending in the right direction after some tough non-conference setbacks.
"I'm excited that I still don't feel that we played our best basketball," Winston said. "I feel like we're doing a lot of good things, and we're going in the right direction, but we're still getting better and there's still a lot of things that we can fix. I'm worried about a couple guys are new to success a little bit, so you've got to try to keep guys humble and remind them this isn't the end goal. This is just a part of the journey and just keep guys hungry."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 8, 2020