East Lansing — When Kansas and Michigan State shook hands on Tuesday night, Jayhawks coach Bill Self revealed to Spartans’ senior Kenny Goins a mistake in his game plan.
The Jayhawks knew Goins was a player capable of hitting some shots, they just didn’t think it would be that many.
“We kind of planned on you shooting. but shouldn’t have let you take as many as you did,” Goins said, relaying what the Kansas coach told him.
Goins was one of the bright spots for No. 10 Michigan State during its 92-87 loss to No. 1 Kansas in the Champions Classic. He scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in nearly 33 minutes of action. He was also 3-for-8 from 3-point range and scored nine first-half points to help keep the game from getting completely out of hand.
It was quite the night for Michigan State’s ultimate role player, who has spent the better part of his four-plus seasons with the Spartans doing whatever is necessary, whether that’s defending a much bigger player in the post or checking more athletic players on the perimeter.
Heading into Sunday’s home opener at 6 p.m. against Florida Gulf Coast, the 6-foot-7 Goins could be getting set to provide much more of an offensive punch in his final season.
“A big difference,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of the impact Goins could have, “because he’s good enough to guard those stretch fours like (Kansas’ Dedric Lawson). Even though he got to the line a lot he was 5-for-18 (from the floor). I think he’s a hell of a player, but he didn’t shoot that well against us.
“And Kenny is shooting well. He’s shooting well from the line, though he didn’t shoot well from the line (against Kansas). He rebounded well and slashed well.”
It’s the sort of contribution Goins always has been sure he could provide, but it’s something everyone outside the program is now seeing.
“I feel like I showed it around here in the summer and open gym,” Goins said. “It’s more of a confidence-booster for Spartan Nation and you guys more than anything.”
That part is true, considering Goins had scored in double figures just twice in his career, notching 10 points each against Duke and Nebraska as a sophomore in the 2016-17 season.
But his value has never been gauged by points. He’s always been the type of player that can be used in a number of spots and rarely hurts the team.
“I’ve always been a guy that does what the team needs me to do,” Goins said. “That night it seemed to be scoring the ball. I don’t expect it every night, but if that’s the role I’ll gladly step into it.
“But I think this team has a major upside because I can play a bigger role but other guys can step up their game, too. We didn’t have our best game, so the sky’s the limit.”
The Spartans (0-1) will need to step up against a Florida Gulf Coast team that nearly won the last time it visited the Breslin Center. Back in 2016, the Eagles came within a point of beating the Spartans. Their last-second shot came after the buzzer when the clock started early, but the ball bounced off the rim, securing Michigan State’s 78-77 win.
Whether something similar is in store this season remains to be seen. Florida Gulf Coast, which won 23 games last season, enters the game with a loss at Southern Illinois and a win over Southeastern. Former Michigan big man Ricky Doyle is on the roster that features a handful of transfers.
They’ll have the full attention of the Spartans, Goins included. He might not score 17 again, but there’s little doubt Goins will be prepared for whatever comes his way.
“My confidence is fully there,” Goins said. “The coaches’ confidence (in me) hasn’t changed. I just know what to expect. Five years around the block is an experience, and you get to know what you’re doing around here.”