Bob Wojnowski and Matt Charboneau break down Michigan State's win over Duke to reach the Final Four. The Detroit News
Washington — Michigan State has more games to play.
That much was guaranteed when the Spartans beat top overall seed Duke, 68-67, on Sunday to win the East Region of the NCAA Tournament and reach the Final Four.
But for a program that had been knocked out the first weekend of the tournament in each of the past three seasons and had battled adversity all season, the next game was going to wait, at least for a few hours.
Instead of worry about Saturday’s matchup with Texas Tech, the Spartans were busy reveling in beating Duke for just the third time in program history and only the second time under coach Tom Izzo.
“This one was special because we have been through a lot,” Izzo said. “We haven’t been (to the Final Four) in a while and it was (Matt) McQuaid’s turn. He didn’t want to be in that group of our seniors that didn’t make it. And it was Duke. The respect I have for them … I mean, we doubled our win total against them.
“But the first one helped us get to a Final Four and this one got us to a Final Four. I guess in that respect it’s been good.”
Yeah, beating Duke was big for Izzo and big for Michigan State. The last time the Spartans did it, they knocked off the Blue Devils in the 2005 Sweet 16. Two days later they beat Kentucky in double-overtime to reach the Final Four.
Players from that 2005 team sent video messages to the Spartan earlier on Sunday. They weren’t trying to give the current team any advice, just remind them how they were able to get it done and what it meant to them and the program.
“We had a hell of a video today from all players from that team sent in,” Izzo said. “Each player talked a little about the game in ’05 and what it meant to them.”
It wasn’t the only message the Spartans got on Sunday.
Earvin "Magic" Johnson was at the game and he talked to the team before the game.
“He was big,” junior guard Cassius Winston said. “He just talked about the things we had to do, get out in transition, boxing out early, all type of things that help us win these games. He talked about their run and some similarities they had in the same situation.
“But it's not just Magic. There's a lot of guys that came back. Mateen (Cleaves) was here, Charlie Bell was here. Like I said, that Spartan legacy and family, it goes back years and years and years. And they're still pushing for us, still supporting us.”
They all played a role. At least, that’s the way Izzo and the rest of the team looks at it. As the Spartans were being handed their trophy on Sunday, Izzo was handed the microphone and immediately thanked all the former players in attendance.
They were there to see the second win over Duke, on that sends Michigan State back to the Final Four and showed how good Michigan State (32-6) has been all season.
“We’ve proven we can play with the best,” Izzo said. “We’ve played the best schedule. The Big Ten has been awesome all year. We played 24 Big Ten games, we’ve got more Quad 1 wins. These guys were given zero. They earned everything they got and for that we go in there good.
“Now Texas Tech I watched them the other night and I have a lot of respect for Gonzaga, so that was scary. But I’m not even gonna talk about that tonight. I’m gonna enjoy a flight home and then probably catch a little bit of them late tonight.”
Yes, there’s another game. In fact, the Spartans are hoping there’s at least too more games.
They didn’t want to shorten the celebration on Sunday, but for a team that has eliminated much doubt from all the cynics, the next matchup wasn’t far from their minds.
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” freshman Aaron Henry said. “We’ve got an ultimate goal of winning a national championship. It’s a huge part of the program to get to a Final Four. But we’ve got two more games to get.”