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Michigan State's Cassius Winston already elite in Spartans men's basketball annals

Michigan State’s Cassius Winston, left, puts his arm around coach Tom Izzo after the Spartans’ win over LSU in an the NCAA men's tournament game in Washington on Friday. (AP photo)

By LARRY LAGE
AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING — Cassius Winston is already in elite company.
The crafty point guard is among a handful of Michigan State players to win Big Ten player of the year honors and earn a spot on The Associated Press All-America team. And if he can help the Spartans win two more games, he will also join Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves as the school’s national championship-winning point guards.
“There’s room at the table for Cassius and I’ll even pull the chair out for him personally,” Cleaves told the AP on Wednesday, 19 years after he led Michigan State to its second national title.
“I’m excited for him and I think he deserves it. Having won it, I know how it feels and it gets even better as you get older. No matter what, no one can take that away from you and you’re a staple in college basketball for the rest of your life.”
The second-seeded Spartans will play third-seeded Texas Tech on Saturday night in the Final Four, hoping to advance and face Virginia or Auburn in the title game.
Johnson, a Hall of Famer, lifted the Spartans to a national championship in 1979 and Cleaves did in 2000. Winston acknowledged it would mean a lot to him to join the duo in Michigan State lore.
“Those are the greats, definitely, got to be top two,” he said. “So just to be up there with those guys, to get a national championship for this program, that’s something you can’t replace.”
The Spartans went into the season needing to replace Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson after they entered the NBA draft as underclassmen. Michigan State also bid farewell to a trio of role-playing seniors.
Then they lost Joshua Langford in December to a season-ending ankle injury, Nick Ward for a stretch of games late in the season with a broken hand and Kyle Ahrens was in and out of the lineup with a back injury before hurting his left ankle in the Big Ten Tournament.
Coach Tom Izzo, his staff and the team overcame the setbacks.
It may have been impossible to overcome to loss of Winston.
He is averaging 37.5 minutes during the NCAA Tournament. Winston was the Most Outstanding Player in the East Region after averaging 19 points and 7.8 assists, including a 20-point, 10-assist performance in a win over top-seeded Duke. He was the only Division I basketball player this season to average 18 or more points per game, at least seven assists and shoot at least 40% from the 3-point line.