EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The emotion never really came out of Cassius Winston, even though the Michigan State point guard felt it all day Sunday, the last day he'd ever play a game inside the Breslin Center. After a season in which he had been through so much, both on the court and off of it, the last 9.4 seconds was where it almost all boiled over.
Jack Hoiberg had to foul to give Winston the moment every other Michigan State senior had during an 80-69 win over Ohio State that clinched a share of the Big Ten title. Coming out of the game for the final time was dramatic. He hugged teammates amid a standing ovation, he waved, and he stopped over at the Michigan State logo and kissed it.
"You hear about the kiss, you got to kiss the floor, the kiss coming," said Winston, who finished with 27 points, six assists and four rebounds. "Then it's your turn, and when it's your turn, you're like, 'This is it. This is my last time out here.' That's probably the moment where you kind of realize, like, this it for me, the back end of it, not the end of my career, but my time here as a Spartan is coming to an end."
In a season in which his brother Zachary took his own life on Nov. 9, Winston kept playing while mourning. He acknowledged there were times he wasn't himself. That he couldn't be himself.
He was in pain. His family was in pain. Basketball, the thing he loved doing, it didn't quite carry the same heft it did before.
"I can finally say now that the year is over, I couldn't do what he did," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "And yet it's my job to push him to do more. But I could not have done what he did."
Throughout all of it, Winston still remained a national player of the year candidate. He set a career high in scoring against Michigan on Jan. 5 (32 points) and became the school's and the Big Ten's all-time leader in assists with 890 and counting.
The past few weeks, Winston started to feel more like himself, the player who entered the season as one of the best in the country. He started seeing more happiness from his family, too -- not forced, but something more natural.
"It's been easier to find joy," Winston said. "There was a point where you couldn't be happy. You felt bad about being happy."
Winston admitted that senior day, a tradition in college basketball often predicated on emotion, was not the easiest of days.
"My brain was just stretched thin," Winston said. "You don't understand how much it is to carry a team, lead a team and try to love your family and make sure your family is straight, make sure your little brother is straight when he's at a different school. It's hard to get on somebody for making a mistake when it's not the biggest thing on my mind at the moment. So it's been a long time coming, a long time just me growing."
Unlike many programs, Michigan State holds its senior day ceremonies after the game, and Winston and his family were the last ones announced. A video played recalling his time at Michigan State. Then his family and girlfriend walked out in front of the full house that stayed to celebrate Winston and his season.
He embraced Izzo and hugged his teammates one more time.
"There's moments where my mom cried," Winston said. "There's moments where you walked out and said it's obvious that you're missing a piece out there. A huge piece. It is an emotional night.
"It did take a lot to go out there and play. But at the end of the day, this is what I love to do."