Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Matt Charboneau break down MSU's loss to Texas Tech in the Final Four. The Detroit News
Minneapolis — Michigan State was on a run, and everyone — from the 72,711 fans in the stadium to the last player on the Spartans bench — could feel it.
Xavier Tillman got the block, Kenny Goins scooped up the rebound and Cassius Winston took a handoff and pushed the pace. He found Aaron Henry up ahead on the wing, and then the freshman did what few players do against Texas Tech’s suffocating defense. In fact, he did something he wasn’t supposed to do.
“Our whole thing tonight was take no more than two dribbles in there,” head coach Tom Izzo was saying afterward, explaining the scouting report against the Red Raiders.
Yet Henry took three before hopping and skipping around a pair of collapsing defenders in the lane and somehow making a near-perfect pass to the right corner of the raised court inside U.S. Bank Stadium. That’s where Matt McQuaid was standing alone, crouched and ready.
Michigan State’s senior guard gathered himself and launched a 3-pointer that would’ve tied the score at 54-all with 1:50 to play, capping a comeback from a 13-point, second-half deficit. The shot looked good when McQuaid let it go, and his teammates on the bench took a step up ready to celebrate.
“It looked really good,” said Kyle Ahrens, McQuaid’s roommate and best friend. “I had my hands up because I thought that one was in.”
McQuad did, too, he admitted later.
“I think I started running back a little early,” he said. “I thought it was good. It just didn’t go my way.”
It didn’t. And it wouldn’t the rest of the way for the Spartans, who didn't score again in those final 2 minutes, as Texas Tech held on and Michigan State’s season slipped away.
For McQuaid and fifth-year senior Kenny Goins, it was a career coming to a close. And as each of them sat on folding chairs in front of their adjacent lockers late Saturday night, that sad reality was beginning to dawn on both of them.
Goins' week began with him hitting the winning shot to beat top-seeded Duke in the Elite Eight, a storybook moment for a former walk-on. But it ended Saturday with a scoreless night (0-for-4) that’ll take some time to process.
“It was a dream of mine to be here,” Goins said. “But all dreams come to an end. You’ve got to wake up eventually.”
On Saturday, the Spartans discovered for themselves what a nightmare it is to face Texas Tech’s top-rated defense, unique in its scheme and lethal in its execution.
“Their defense is really, really good,” said Winston, who finished 4-for-16 with just two assists and four turnovers.
McQuaid finished with 12 points, including three 3-pointers. But he was running on fumes by the end of the night, having run himself ragged to shut down Texas Tech star Jarrett Culver, who finished 3-for-12 but came up with a pair of big baskets late.
One of McQuaid’s misses came during the Spartans’ late charge, and it was because his legs seized up when he jumped to shoot.
“As soon as I jumped,” McQuaid said, “I started cramping in my calves and my right hamstring.”
He hobbled back on defense, then headed to the bench to get some fluids. A couple minutes later, he was checking back into the game.
“Yeah, there's no real excuse for being tired in this game,” McQuaid said. “You know, it's the Final Four. Coach always says play like there's no tomorrow. There is no tomorrow now.”
And that’s a thought that was hard to stomach as Izzo made a couple late substitutions with 19 seconds left, sharing a moment with his seniors once the game was out of reach.
“He just hugged me and said, ‘I'm sorry,’ ” McQuaid said. “And I told him, ‘I'm sorry.’ ”
There were no apologies necessary, though. Not after the dogged determination McQuaid showed over the course of four years.
“He'll go down as one of the all-time great guys and hardest workers that I've ever coached,” Izzo said. “The kid gave me everything. I coined the phrase with him and Josh Langford: Some kids like it, some kids love it, and some kids live it. He's a guy that lived it.”
And that’s something they both loved about each other.
“I’ve got a special relationship with Coach,” McQuaid said. “One thing I'm going to miss the most is, when I get done working out during the day, and I go up to his office and talk to him for like five minutes, and we just talk about family or what I need to get better at. We go over stats or film or something. I love Coach, and he's done so much for me and helped me so much. I know he's got my back, and I've got his back for the rest of our life.”
So will his teammates, after watching him work the way he did.
"He’s been in the gym every morning and every night since our freshman year when we stepped foot on campus," Ahrens said. He had such a great career. I’m so happy for him. He deserves all the credit he gets. I just hate that it had to end this way.
Turning to the future
McQuaid did a lot of growing these last four years, and he forced a smile when reminded in the postgame locker room about seeing snow for the first time as a shivering, wide-eyed freshman from Dallas.
“When I walked in, I was a quiet, shy kid from Texas,” he said. “Now I’m a captain, a leader. One of the more vocal ones. I have to thank my teammates for helping me get here. And my coach.”
And while his college career might be over, he’s still hoping to play professionally, wherever that might take him. Izzo, who’ll sit down with McQuaid and his parents to map out a plan, insists he will.
“Matt will play some basketball yet,” he said. “He's got a couple of opportunities.”
He just won’t have the opportunity to play for Michigan State anymore.
“It sucks,” McQuaid said. “I love this place. I love Coach Izzo. Every teammate that’s been through here I love. …
“It’s really tough knowing it’s your last game, last time putting on the jersey. We’ve had a crazy season with injuries and adversity, but I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else. I have a special relationship with everybody in this locker room, from coaches to managers to players — a special bond I’ll have for the rest of my life.”