Michigan State's Kenny Goins talks about hitting the winning shot to beat Duke and reach Final Four. The Detroit News
Washington — In the moments following Michigan State’s 68-67 win over Duke on Sunday in the East Region final of the NCAA Tournament, Kenny Goins admitted his mind was a blur.
Fortunately for the Spartans, the fifth-year senior was dialed in during the waning moments of the game, the Spartans trailing by a point with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
The fifth-year senior had just had a couple of tough defensive trips and he came to the bench as Michigan State called a timeout. Tom Izzo was letting him have it, and Goins understood his coach’s anger. However, he also knew the Spartans needed a bucket.
“I’ve been in this position before. It’s happened before,” Goins said. “They were getting on me and I’m like, I (messed) up but we still got a game to win. I said that to coach as he was yelling at me. As soon as I said that he kind of shut up, no offense to him, but he shut up and moved on. He knows if you acknowledge that you messed up there is nothing you can do to change the past.”
For Goins, however, there was something he could to about what would happen next.
As Cassius Winston took the inbounds pass with 43 seconds to play, Goins wasn’t the first option. What, exactly the play was, is hard to say. There were a couple descriptions in the boisterous locker room. One was a lob to Xavier Tillman, but the second Winston tossed the ball to Tillman, Goins popped out behind the 3-point line and Duke’s Zion Williamson left him to help in the paint.
Tillman kicked it out and Goins didn’t hesitate, even as the 6-foot-8 Duke dynamo scrambled back and leapt toward him.
“I was ready to take the shot,” Goins said. “That’s what you dream of.”
The shot arched over Williamson’s outstretched hand and touched nothing but net. Goins let out a roar, the bench erupted. The Spartans had one more stop to make, but the shot had just broken Duke’s back.
“As soon as I heard the play call you start thinking about a positive outcome,” Goins said. “A positive outcome and you’re kind of visualizing it.”
It’s a shot Goins had been knocking down with regularity in the second half of the season. But over the previous four games, the shot had started to get erratic. He missed all 11 against Michigan in the Big Ten tournament and Bradly in the first round then was 2-for-4 against Minnesota. He missed his first six on Friday against LSU before making his last two and missed his first four on Sunday.
But when it mattered most, Goins knocked them down. He tied the game at 56 earlier in the second half before hitting the winner, a shot he said he always dreamed of making when he was a kid.
Oh, and in those dreams, he was always wearing green and white.
It all led to Sunday.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Goins said.
MSU's Joshua Langford, Nick Ward, Aaron Henry and Matt McQuaid talk about beating Duke to reach the Final Four. The Detroit News
Now Goins is back in the Final Four, the only player on the roster who knows what it’s like after spending his redshirt season on the bench when Michigan State got there in 2015.
“When you go in you freshman year you always think they’re gonna come easier,” Goins said. “It’s a really special thing to go to a Final Four and people don’t realize that. It’s nice to be back, I’ll tell you that.”
Goins also kept the promise he made to senior Matt McQuaid, who is in the Final Four after three years of NCAA Tournament frustration.
“We talked about it at the beginning of the season,” Goins said. “I told him we were going to a Final Four. Here we are, we’re going. He came up after game and gave me a big old hug. I was like, ‘I told you.’”
Michigan State has been one of the best defensive teams all season and on Sunday it forced Duke to commit 17 turnovers, the second-most the Spartans had forced all season.
“They were in the key. They ran at the ball and getting little tips and stuff like that,” Duke’s RJ Barrett said. “So they played great defense. It was tough that we weren't able to come out with the win.”
The Spartans scored 24 points of the Blue Devils’ turnovers, and on the other end, they gave the ball up only seven times, just two games after committing 22 turnovers in a win over Minnesota.
“It was big, just me being in those gaps, taking away driving angles,” said Winston, who had four steals. “That's a big team; they do a good job getting to the basket, especially -- they've got their tendencies; they go strong left or strong right.
“I was roaming a little bit. Tre Jones didn't really take any 3-pointers or anything like that. So it was a little bit easier to roam in there and stay in those gaps, be on the help side off the lob and things. I was just in the right moments, quick hands, making plays that way.”