With ball in hand, Kenny Goins drove to his left to find Matt McQuaid in the left corner. Goins, sitting at the top of the key, got the ball back from McQuaid without his defender anywhere near.
Goins let loose on the open shot.
The easy bucket in the opening minute set the tone early for No. 9 Michigan State (24-6, 15-4 Big Ten) and a career night for Goins, who scored a team-high 24 points and eight rebounds in the ninth-ranked Spartans' 91-76 victory over Nebraska (15-15, 5-14) at the Breslin Center on Tuesday night. Goins went 6-for-8 from the field and accounted for six of MSU's 12 shots from deep.
"Once you see two or three go in, it seems like the basket's an ocean and I just let it keep going in," Goins said, smiling. "I probably glanced up at the scoreboard with like a minute left and was like 'dang.' "
Goins made the most noise in the first half, when the fifth-year senior had 21 points in part of 5-of-5 shooting from 3-point range — to help eclipse his previous career-high of 19 against Iowa back in December. He sent the Breslin crowd into a frenzy with a putback slam on a missed 3 attempt from Aaron Henry at the end of the first half, which gave MSU a 47-29 lead at halftime.
McQuaid finished behind Goins with a career-high 22 points, four assists and five boards, marking the shooting guard's highest scoring game since a 20-point performance against DePaul in November, 2017, during the PK80 Tournament.
"I'm not sure that at the beginning of the year, I'd believe if someone would tell me that Kenny Goins was going to be our leading scorer and Matt McQuaid second," coach Tom Izzo said.
The performance from Goins and McQuaid, the team's only two seniors, was especially welcomed given junior Cassius Winston was held to eight points — which ties a season low, set Dec. 3 against Iowa — and 10 assists. Winston entered the game leading the team in scoring, averaging 19.2 points — and is just the second game this season the point guard was held to single digits.
"We saw Cash was a little sluggish," McQuaid said. "But he picked it up, finished with 10 assists and that's kind of crazy to think about. We just try to do what we can to help him."
Goins and McQuaid have been much more involved in MSU's offense since Nick Ward suffered a hairline fracture (hand) against Ohio State that's kept the forward out since Feb. 17. In the five games without Ward, including OSU, Goins and McQuaid are averaging 13.8 and 13.2 apiece — the two were combined averaging 16.6 per game coming into Tuesday.
The increased role is exactly what Izzo likes to see from his upperclassmen.
"Seniors are supposed to do this," Izzo said. "They've worked their whole four years, five years for Kenny, for this. So proud of Matt, because these games and every practice and every game we play means so much. You just see his eyes in the locker room, see him in the huddles. That means the world to him."
Nebraska coach Tim Miles praised Goins' improvement throughout his college career and for the strides Goins have made mid-season. The biggest difference being Goins is now a player opposing teams have to plan for.
"Kenny, I think he's a self-made guy," Miles said. "He went from a guy not even in the scouting report years ago to going out and having a great night. ... I think that just says a lot about the culture of Michigan State and the character of a guy like Kenny."
Goins and McQuaid will play one more game at the Breslin: Saturday's rematch with No. 7 Michigan (8 p.m./ESPN). The Spartans took the first meeting in Ann Arbor two weeks ago, and the winner Saturday will earn at least a share of the Big Ten regular season championship and the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament.
Though the next game will decide MSU's postseason fate, Goins is focused on one day at a time.
"It just means that we're realizing its coming to an end," Goins said. "And we're trying to do as much as we can to accomplish goals and play as long as we can."