GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Michigan State basketball defeated Florida, 63-59, on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla.

Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch offers three of the biggest takeaways from Saturday's win, which improves the Spartans to 8-2.

Spartans must find a way to spell exhausted Winston

For the second time this season, I thought Cassius Winston lost his poise and legs a bit late in a game. Largely out of exhaustion.

Florida’s defense is built to do that to you. MSU asks a lot out of its point guard. Too much.

MSU’s two-hour survival session Saturday showed that again.

On the road, the first goal is to win through any means necessary. You don’t apologize for winning, no matter what it looks like. And to win, the Spartans needed all 36 minutes Winston gave them.

But MSU will lose road games later this season if it doesn’t find a way to need less of Winston — be it Foster Loyer or Matt McQuad or whomever.

The Spartans escaped their last real non-conference test with a second true road win of the season. Now it’s time to start thinking about the long game. MSU has a ton going for it — a cohesive offense, three primary headliners (just enough), poised and effective role players with role definition, among other things.

It needs one of those roles to expand — whoever is right behind Winston.

Florida doesn’t have the offensive oomph to ride swings of momentum like many road teams do. Like Louisville did. The Gators compete by making you look ugly and by crashing the offensive glass. They known they can’t shoot, so they’re always there for the rebound.

This was a good win. But revealing of one area the Spartans need to address.

Freshman thoughts – Florida edition

McQuaid’s return reset the rotation. Couple that with a true road game against a high-major opponent and MSU’s freshman were mostly spectators Saturday at Florida. This was a telling barometer of where things stand 10 games into the season. Other than Aaron Henry, there are seven other players Izzo trusts more. And, in a setting like Saturday, he’d rather stick with an eight-man rotation.

If you’re looking to maximize the role of Nick Ward and MSU’s veteran backcourt, it makes sense. Also driving this is how well Kenny Goins, Xavier Tillman and Kyle Ahrens are playing. Goins made several decisions on the court that led to buckets — drawing the defense before kicking to a shooter, a couple really strong entry passes to Ward — that Thomas Kithier and Marcus Bingham Jr. aren’t likely to make.

There’s a drop-off right now. Until the freshmen make up that ground, on the road, against worthy competition, there are going to be more games like this — especially with McQuaid taking the backup point guard minutes that at some point this season might belong to Loyer.

Henry did see a regular spot in the rotation, playing 11 minutes. We’ve seen Henry’s ability to impact games against big-time athletes. This Florida team, despite its three-quarter court pressure defensively and ability to crash the glass, is not an overwhelming group of athletes. Henry wasn’t needed to tip the balance the way he was against Texas, for example. And from an execution standpoint, isn’t yet as critical as he is as an athletic matchup. His wild one-on-one drive and shot midway through the second half was an example of this. On a team that moves the ball so well, he had one thing in mind, no matter the situation or defense. Against a team that wants to make you make bad decisions, Henry isn’t as effective as a Ahrens or McQuaid right now.

MSU should leave December in a good place

MSU should enter January and the crux of conference play at 11-2, including a 2-0 Big Ten mark, and ranked safely in the top 10.

The Spartans’ remaining December games, all at home, don’t present a spot where they realistically might trip up. MSU gets Wisconsin-Green Bay next Sunday (Dec. 16), then Oakland (Dec. 21) and Northern Illinois (Dec. 29). None of those teams are having the sort of year that leads you to believe they’ll push the Spartans in Breslin Center. Oakland is going through its first rebuilding season in a while.

The question is: How strong is MSU’s resume to this point?

MSU has two true road wins (Rutgers and Florida) and two on a neutral floor (UCLA and Texas), with a Big Ten home win over Iowa.

That could wind up as five quality wins or none. More likely, some where in between. Each of those teams’ seasons could go any which way at this point.

Contact Graham Couch at gcouch@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.

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