What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken spoke with people around the basketball world and they had a lot to say about rising star Zion Williamson.
CHICAGO — Forget rest — Michigan State basketball has another championship to play for.
Cassius Winston and the seventh-ranked Spartans blitzed No. 19 Wisconsin early and never trailed en route to a 67-55 victory in Saturday’s Big Ten tournament semifinal matinee at United Center.
The junior point guard scored 21 points with six assists, going 9 of 17 from the floor. Kenny Goins added 13 points and 12 rebounds, hitting four of MSU’s nine 3-pointers. Xavier TIllman added 17 points, and freshman Aaron Henry grabbed a career-best 11 rebounds.
The Spartans (27-6) advance to Sunday’s Big Ten tournament championship game for the first time since winning it all in 2016. They will face the winner of Michigan-Minnesota.
Ethan Happ essentially replicated his line from the first game with 20 points on 10-of-20 shooting to lead the Badgers (23-10), but MSU held him to just six rebounds.
After a sluggish and sloppy start against Ohio State on Friday, MSU came out against Wisconsin with one of its best starts of the season.
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Winston, the Big Ten player of the year, orchestrated it all, setting up Goins and McQuaid for 3-pointers in the first 1:05, then burying a deep jumper at the top of the key for an 8-0 start.
After a bucket by Happ, Winston picked up his third assist on Goins’ second triple, then the 6-foot-1 point guard knifed into the lane for a pair of angular layups that forced Wisconsin coach Greg Gard to call a timeout with the Spartans off to a 15-4 lead just 5:31 into the opening half.
They weren’t done.
Goins drained his third 3-pointer, and Nick Ward hit a hook that put MSU up, 20-6. The Spartans made 9-of-12 shots to open the game, then went ahead by 17 points on Xavier Tillman’s three-point play.
MSU went 7 of 12 from beyond the arc in the first half, but it cooled off by going 4 of 17 from the field in the final 10:51 as Wisconsin cut it to 35-27 at halftime.
Winston had 11 points and four assists at the break.
Ward finished with two points and three rebounds in his second game back from a broken hand. Coach Tom Izzo used him for 11 minutes off the bench again, interspersing the 6-9 junior with Tillman and Goins and mixing up his combination on the block.
MSU dominated the Badgers on the glass with a 45-29 rebounding advantage, though Wisconsin outscored MSU in the paint, 40-22.