WASHINGTON -- No. 2 seed Michigan State streaked its way into the Elite Eight on Friday night, defeating No. 3 seed LSU 80-63 in the East Regional semifinals. The victory marks the 10th time that Tom Izzo has guided the Spartans to the Elite Eight in his career.
Cassius Winston continued to show why he was named Big Ten Player of the Year. The junior point guard scored 17 points and dished out eight assists in the win. It was a performance that was very similar to how he has played all season, but the big surprise in Friday's Sweet 16 victory was how well the team's freshmen played.
Gabe Brown scored a career-high 15 points after dropping in just 11 points in his last 13 games. Brown hit four 3-pointers and finished the game 5 of 7 from the field. Aaron Henry, a starter in 20 of the team's last 21 games, set career highs in points (20), assists (six) and minutes (38).
"It was one of those nights where I thought the basket was huge," Henry said. "I'm glad that it was that way tonight. Just my teammates looking out for me and getting me the ball in certain positions. And coach put me in great spots to score. It was all key tonight. It just wasn't on me. Thanks to my coach and my players for doing that for me."
Unfortunately, though, it was not all positive for the Spartans on Friday night as they sprinted into the Elite Eight. Nick Ward had an injury scare in the second half after a Naz Reid flagrant foul caused the junior forward to fall on his left wrist. It was the same hand in which he suffered a hairline fracture in the middle of February that required surgery and subsequently caused him to miss five games.
X-rays came back negative for Ward, and his status for Sunday is uncertain.
"We're going to need Nick whoever we play, and hopefully he'll be able to come back," Izzo said. "I don't know any more than that right now. I'm sure it's day to day. There's no break or serious injury. It's just how bad it's bruised, and on his shooting hand could create a few problems I guess."
Michigan State controlled the game from the very start, taking an 8-0 lead and never falling behind. LSU made a push early in the second half to cut the margin to four points, but MSU countered with an 11-0 run to put the game out of reach early.
Tremont Waters led LSU with 23 points in the loss, but overall, the Tigers could not get their shots to fall. The team shot just 39 percent from the field and 29 percent from 3-point range.
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