Win­ston, Spar­tans get best of Wil­liamson and No. 1 Blue Devils

The Tribune (SLO) - - Sports - BY STEPHEN WHYNO

Cas­sius Win­ston missed an open jump shot but was right there for the re­bound. With­out hes­i­tat­ing, he stepped back and swished a 3-pointer.

“Now is not the time to doubt your­self,” Win­ston said. “Now’s not the time to shy away from those big mo­ments.”

The big­gest mo­ment for Michi­gan State is still to come af­ter Win­ston led the Spar­tans back to the Fi­nal Four for the first time since 2015.

Michi­gan State beat Duke 68-67 on Sun­day to knock the over­all top seed out of the NCAA Tour­na­ment in what likely was the end of Zion Wil­liamson’s col­lege ca­reer. Win­ston took over the game when his team faced its big­gest deficit, steal­ing the show from Wil­liamson with 20 points and 10 as­sists in a do-it-all per­for­mance fit­tingly with Magic John­son there to see it.

“I was locked in,” Win­ston said with smile and a piece of one of the nets tucked into his Fi­nal Four hat. “I wanted to do ev­ery­thing I could for my team to get us to that point. We’ve been work­ing way too hard to stop now.”

Win­ston didn’t know how many shots he took but never hes­i­tated to put the ball up. He was 9 of 23 and never shied away from tak­ing it at Duke and shoot­ing at nearly ev­ery op­por­tu­nity in the East Re­gion fi­nal.

The Big Ten Player of the Year and East Re­gion Most Out­stand­ing Player made or as­sisted on 19 of Michi­gan State’s 30 field goals.

“Win­ston was the dif­fer­ence maker,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He was ei­ther scor­ing or as­sist­ing. He’s the best guard we’ve played against.”

Wil­liamson, the pre­sump­tive top pick in the NBA Draft and

big­gest star of this NCAA Tour­na­ment, had a game­high 24 points and 14 re­bounds. He said it was a “high pos­si­bil­ity” this was his fi­nal game at Duke.

“We’re very up­set, ob­vi­ously, but con­grats to Michi­gan State,” Wil­liamson said. “Just look­ing around the locker room and see your team­mates, your broth­ers and you just think this group will prob­a­bly never play to­gether again.”

Michi­gan State’s vet­eran-laden team will have an­other chance Satur­day in one re­gional semi­fi­nal against Texas Tech in Min­neapo­lis. Vir­ginia faces Auburn in the other.

“We’re not done yet, and it feels good,” se­nior guard Matt McQuaid said.

Win­ston car­ried the Spar­tans into the Fi­nal Four, but they re­ceived a huge boost from their old­est player. Kenny Goins, a fifth-year walk-on se­nior who missed his first four 3-point at­tempts, drained the go-ahead shot with 34.3 sec­onds left to put Michi­gan State up 68-66.

“I was out there, great pass, trusted it and let it go and it went down,” said Goins, the only player left from 2015 when Duke beat Michi­gan State in the Fi­nal Four dur­ing his red­shirt sea­son. “As soon as I let it go, I knew it was good. I was ready to cel­e­brate, but I knew I had to get back on de­fense.”

Duke had the chance to tie but fresh­man star RJ Bar­rett missed the first of two free throws with 5.2 sec­onds left. Duke was help­less with only four fouls, and Win­ston was able to get the ball away from the Duke de­fend­ers and drib­ble out the clock.

“There wasn’t enough time, so I tried to miss the se­cond one and it went in,” Bar­rett said.

Michi­gan State is in the Fi­nal Four for the eighth time un­der coach Tom Izzo, who beat Krzyzewski for the se­cond time in 13 meet­ings and se­cond time in six NCAA Tour­na­ment games. Izzo is in the Fi­nal Four for the eighth time in his ca­reer and de­nied Krzyzewski what would have been a record 13th ap­pear­ance.

As he wiped away tears, Izzo told the crowd, “I love you all, I ap­pre­ci­ate you all. I’ll see you in Min­neapo­lis.”

Izzo had to nav­i­gate foul trou­ble to big man Xavier Till­man, who was essential in guard­ing Wil­liamson and fac­tor­ing in on the of­fen­sive end. Till­man played 29 min­utes and scored 19 points on 8-of-12 shoot­ing.

Duke fell one step short of the Fi­nal Four af­ter fi­nally com­ing out on the los­ing end of a nail-biter. The Blue Devils won their pre­vi­ous two NCAA Tour­na­ment games by a com­bined three points and es­caped in the fi­nal sec­onds only when their opponents missed at the buzzer.

“Everybody that beats Duke is ready to put that on the wall be­cause that’s the pro­gram that (Krzyzewski has) built,” Izzo said. “I do think we beat ar­guably the best team in the coun­try, but there’s an­other game com­ing up.”

Fall­ing short likely ended the col­lege ca­reer of Wil­liamson, the fresh­man sen­sa­tion ex­pected to leave Duke for the NBA. In­ter­est in Wil­liamson has been so high that CBS ded­i­cated a cam­era to his ev­ery move in the NCAA Tour­na­ment.

Bar­rett had 21 points – but not the one that could have sent the game into over­time.

“It’s March Mad­ness, and peo­ple are go­ing to fight their butts off to win this ti­tle,” Bar­rett said. “They wanted it more than us.”


Michi­gan State guard Cas­sius Win­ston, right, cel­e­brates with team­mates Matt McQuaid (20), Nick Ward (44) and Gabe Brown af­ter de­feat­ing Duke in Sun­day’s East Re­gion fi­nal in Wash­ing­ton.

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