Spartans' senior night takes back seat to high-stakes showdown with Wolverines

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Matt McQuaid is focusing more on what's at stake on Saturday than on his home career ending: “I haven’t put a lot of thought into it. Really, I’m thinking about the game. It’s a chance for a Big Ten championship and all that will happen after the game.”

East Lansing – Kenny Goins always was meant to be here.

By the time Matt McQuaid rolled into town, he realized he didn’t want to be anywhere else.

The seniors will play their final home games for Michigan State at Breslin Center on Saturday night, and that it will be against the Spartans’ biggest rival with a Big Ten championship on the line just adds to the excitement.

“I told someone it’s the trifecta for games,” Goins said. “Senior night, Michigan game and playing for a championship. It doesn’t get really any bigger than that.”

That might seem, in an odd way, to take away from Goins and McQuaid playing their final home game. But neither see it that way. To each, winning a championship matters most, followed closely by getting the chance to win a second straight over their biggest rival.

Those two things have taken precedence, but both understand the inevitable can’t be avoided.

“I haven’t put a lot of thought into it,” McQuaid said. “Really, I’m thinking about the game. It’s a chance for a Big Ten championship and all that will happen after the game.”

Goins added, “It really hasn’t hit me yet, honestly. I’m trying to not let it hit me until we’re out there and we’re walking off with a win. I guess we’ll see when we get to the day but right now I’m trying to focus on it’s another game and luckily, I got a couple more after that.”

There are more games after Saturday, and No. 9 Michigan State (24-6, 15-4 Big Ten) intends to extend the season as long as possible. The seniors should have plenty to say about that.

Outside of Cassius Winston, Goins has arguably become the Spartans’ most important player. He’s 25-for-51 (.490) from 3-point range since the start of February, scored a career-high 24 on Tuesday and is fourth in the Big Ten in rebounding with 8.9 a game.

Not bad for a guy who came to Michigan State as a walk-on despite offers from the likes of Oakland, Detroit Mercy and Central Michigan. Coming out of Warren Mott, Goins had his heart set on becoming a Spartan, which he did in the fall of 2014, just months after attending Michigan State’s win in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

After he resdshirted in 2014-15 and got a front seat to a Final Four run, his scholarship came before the 2015-16 season. Goins has since steadily become one of Izzo's most versatile players.

“It’s been interesting because Kenny I’ve known for a long time,” Izzo said. “His uncle used to bring him up here to games and he is a guy that wanted to be a Spartan from almost Day 1. He came here as a walk-on, but he was more than just a walk-on, though. He had other offers.

“For it to be coming down to the end and him to be playing like he is now is really impressive. Kenny has become our best utility man. He plays so many different positions, guards so many different people and he can score inside, outside, can run. He’s as good a utility man as I’ve had.”

McQuaid didn’t grow up going to Michigan State games and when the Duncanville, Texas, native first made his college choice it was to play at SMU. That changed by the fall of 2014 and McQuaid then committed to the Spartans.

Izzo was sure what he got — a shooter. Four years later, McQuaid has proven he can be much more, taking over as Michigan State’s top perimeter defender while bringing back his shooting over the last few weeks, hitting four 3-pointers on Tuesday while scoring a career-high 22 points.

“Quaido is a guy that has overcome a bunch of injuries over his career and then to be voted captain,” Izzo said. “I give a lot of credit to Tum (Tum Nairn) and Miles (Bridges) for that because that’s what Matt said to me. He had good people to teach him how to be a leader and even though it’s not Matt’s personality to be as vocal I think he really did a hell of a job this year. You put that together with his defense, which he improved so much, and now the last month or so his shooting has really come back.

“What a great way for them to have the second-to-last game here (Tuesday) night with both getting career highs and if they want to do that again on Saturday, that would be fine with me.”

If they do that, there seems little doubt the Spartans will pull off the regular-season sweep over the Wolverines. That will make the postgame ceremony for McQuaid and Goins that much sweeter.

It’s that motivation that is pushing the entire team.

“People don’t see the wars and the grind and all we’ve been through together, especially Kenny and Quaid,” Winston said. “This year we’ve been digging deep and fighting for each other every step of the way. To have them leaving is gonna be crazy, but we have a chance to send them out the best way possible, and that is an amazing feeling, too.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau