EAST LANSING – A day after capturing a share of its third straight Big Ten title, Michigan State saw its two best players record rare accomplishments.
Xavier Tillman was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year while Cassius Winston earned his second straight first-team All-Big Ten honor when the league announced its postseason honors on Monday night. Tillman also took home second-team All-Big Ten honors, a year after taking home Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year honors.
Spartans guard Rocket Watts was also named to the conference’s All-Freshman team.
The honors came after Michigan State beat Ohio State on Sunday at home to complete a comeback bid for a third straight Big Ten title.
Tillman and Winston led the way throughout that effort and on Monday both received significant awards less than 24 hours later.
Tillman became just the fifth player in Michigan State history to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, following Ken Redfield, Eric Snow, Travis Walton and Jaren Jackson Jr. He also added 13.7 points per game on the offensive end and 10.3 rebounds, third-most in the conference.
Tillman won the award by holding in check a variety of different forwards in a banner year for big men in the Big Ten.
Tillman finished his regular season by holding Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson to 1-for-8 shooting and eight points. The game before that, he held Penn State’s Lamar Stevens to 3-for-19 shooting from the field. He also had strong performances against Maryland’s Jalen Smith, Iowa’s Luka Garza and others in helping the Spartans close the regular season on a five-game winning streak to clinch a share of the Big Ten title.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo regularly advocated Tillman’s candidacy for the award in recent weeks as he paved the way for Michigan State to end the regular season on a five-game win streak.
Winston wasn’t able to repeat as Big Ten Player of the Year — that award went to Iowa’s Luka Garza — but became just the 13th player in program history to earn multiple first-team All-Big Ten selections and the first to do so since Kalin Lucas.
He finished the regular season at 18.6 points per game, third-most in the Big Ten, and as the conference’s leading 3-point shooter at 43.2 percent. He also finished second in the conference in free throw percentage at 85.2.
His assists per game, 5.9, were also fourth-most in the Big Ten.
He ended his season strong with 20 or more points in four of his last five games of the regular season, including 27 on Sunday in Michigan State’s season-ending win over Ohio State.
The honor comes after Winston was a consensus All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year as a junior as he led Michigan State to a Big Ten regular season title, a Big Ten tournament title and a Final Four appearance.
TIllman and Winston will now lead Michigan State into the Big Ten tournaments, where the Spartans begin play on Friday as the No. 2 seed against either Ohio State or Purdue.