Winston plays after brother’s death, Spartans win easily

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Cassius Winston breezed smoothly toward the basket for a layup. Then he checked out of the game moments later, stopping for a hug with coach Tom Izzo on the way back to join his teammates on the sideline.

This was a weekend when basketball was put in perspective — but maybe provided a bit of comfort as well.

Playing a night after the death of his brother, Winston had 17 points and 11 assists to lift No. 1 Michigan State to an emotional 100-47 victory over Binghamton in the Spartans’ home opener Sunday night. Zachary Winston, Cassius’ younger brother, died after being hit by a westbound Amtrak train in Albion on Saturday night. He was a basketball player at Albion College.

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Ima put this on here cause I need you to read it, and I feel like this the best way for it to get to you. I love you bro, w everything I have in my entire body. I love you so much, if I could carry yo pain I would wear it on my shoulders just to see you happy and wouldn’t think twice. I understand it was to much, I understand I really do and yo story won’t end here. I can promise you that, the next time I run into someone in your situation ima save them, cause that’s wha you would want me to do. I wish it was a term that goes deeper then brother, cause that’s what’s you are to me, 1/3 of my heart. And I’m struggling because there is nothing that can replace that Smoothie. I need you, I miss you. But I’m so proud of you, bro you fought every demon w everything you had in you. You went to war w yourself every single day not knowing if you could win that battle. And you won time after time. You stood tall and you let your family love you, you gave me everything I asked for, just one day you didn’t have enough strength. And that’s ok man, that’s really ok, ppl can’t go through wha you went through, you are the strongest, wisest, kindest, most caring person. The best brother/ gang member I could ever ask for. And I wouldn’t replace you or change any single thing about you. Not one. I don’t like doing these cause I feel like they for show, but I need to you to read this Smoothie and I need you to know, that I love you and I care for you. And the only reason I can sit here and still stand is because I know you not in no more pain. The only reason I’m still standing. After that bro we really got beef, and when I see you again I’m beating yo ass. Cause it’s no way you got me out here trying to adjust to life w out you bro. This shit so deep bro we suppose to see all this out together. But we’ll have that convo the next time I see you Smoothie Bean. Rest up my baby and keep watching over us, save me a seat. And when it’s all said and done ima have so much to tell you. You gone already know but ima tell you anyway. Love you Gang member🖤 wish your story coulda had a diff ending, it’s ok tho enjoy it up there. Ima see you soon enough #LuvSmoothie🖤

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Cassius Winston took his usual spot in Michigan State’s starting lineup Sunday. The crowd observed a moment of silence in Zachary’s honor, then Cassius assisted on Michigan State’s first basket and sank his first shot, a 3-pointer from near the top of the key.

“There was a lot of love in that locker room, and a lot of love in that arena,” Izzo said. “But it’s going to have to probably double, because I think the road gets a little tougher for him.”

Izzo said he found out the news shortly after midnight, then spent several hours with Winston and his family. It wasn’t clear if the star point guard would play.

“I guess if I was to be honest, I expected him not to play, but everyone grieves a different way, and we left it a hundred percent up to Cassius,” Izzo said. “His brothers are the world to him. I’ve never seen a kid over my years that was as close with his brothers. Zachary grew up around the team so much. He grew close to all the guys.”

The game was a rout, as expected. Michigan State (1-1) rebounded easily from its season-opening loss Tuesday to No. 2 Kentucky. Xavier Tillman scored 17 points for the Spartans, and Aaron Henry added 16.

Sam Sessoms led Binghamton (0-2) with 12 points.

Gabe Brown drew a smile from Winston when he scored inside while being fouled. That three-point play put the Spartans up 23-5. Then Winston made a nice pass up the court to Thomas Kithier for a layup.

Later, Winston stole the ball and flipped it across the court to Rocket Watts for a layup on a fast break. Tillman dunked off a lob from Winston to make it 31-13. It was 54-23 at halftime.

Izzo figured the game might have been an adrenaline rush for Winston.

“He was spectacular,” Izzo said. “The assists he made in that first half, I caught myself saying, ‘Wow.'”

Winston’s final basket came when he shook past a defender and drove for a layup. He was taken out immediately after that, receiving a hug from Izzo and a standing ovation from the crowd.

Tillman and Kyle Ahrens were the two Michigan State players made available to reporters after the game. They were asked about their memories of Zachary Winston.

“Always made you feel good when you were around him,” Tillman said. “He was not a selfish guy. He didn’t talk about his problems a lot at all. He just focused on everybody else.”

Izzo concluded his news conference with a bit of a lesson.

“When you leave here tonight, whoever it is — son, daughter, older mother, father, wife or husband — it would do you good to tell them you love them and you appreciate them,” he said. “It would do you a lot of good, and any of the people closest to you, that you say that. You say it, and you say it, and you say it. Because one morning you wake up, and everything’s one way, and by 9 o’clock that night, everything’s another way. And then you don’t get a chance to say it.

“So I told my team after I loved every one of them.”

CONDOLENCES

Binghamton coach Tommy Dempsey offered kind words for Winston’s family and Michigan State in his postgame news conference.

“There’s not a lot of words,” Dempsey said. “I just want to say that we’re praying for them, and we’re behind them.”

The Binghamton program went through tragedy as well recently. Center Calistus Anyichie died in July in a drowning.

BIG PICTURE

Binghamton: The Bearcats lost their opener to Cornell by 20 points, so this result wasn’t exactly a surprise. They did manage 14 offensive rebounds but were outscored 54-16 in the paint.

Michigan State: Winston seemed to enjoy being on the court with his teammates, and the home crowd was determined to show its support. That was far more important than anything else that went on in this game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Spartans can expect to drop out of the top spot because of their loss to Kentucky.

UP NEXT

Binghamton: The Bearcats play at Columbia on Wednesday night.

Michigan State: The Spartans play at Seton Hall on Thursday night.

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