WASHINGTON D.C. - Senior forward Kenny Goins hit a three-pointer with 34 seconds remaining to lift second-seeded Michigan State to a 68-67 win over top overall seed Duke in the East regional championship game. The win sends the Spartans to their tenth Final Four in program history, and eighth under coach Tom Izzo — the first since 2015.
"As soon as it left my hand I knew it was good," Goins said of his game-winning shot. "I was kind of planning my celebration already, but I knew I had to get back on defense."
The Spartans will face West region champion Texas Tech in the Final Four next Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Duke freshman guard RJ Barrett missed a free throw with 5.7 seconds remaining, and junior point guard Cassius Winston ran the clock out dribbling to send the crowd, which included former MSU point guard and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, into hysterics. Winston led MSU with 20 points and ten assists, as well as four steals.
Johnson spoke to the team before the game.
"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," Winston said. "He talked about (Johnson's 1979 MSU team that won the first NCAA championship in program history) and some similarities they had in the same situation."
Izzo was asked postgame if this Final Four was the most exciting for him personally, because of the opponent and the length of time in between trips.
"Every (Final Four) has been special," Izzo said. "These memories do last a lifetime, and that’s why they’re so important."
In what will likely be the final game of his college career, Duke freshman forward Zion Williamson scored 24 and grabbed 14 rebounds, but complimented the MSU defense, specifically sophomore forward Xavier Tillman's.
"I think what they did was, I think when I caught it on the post they would bring or two or three defenders, so I wouldn't be able to do spin," Williamson said. "And it was great defense obviously. (Tillman) played great defense."
The win improves Izzo’s record against Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to 2-11 all-time.
"I told them, it's an honor to play against you guys," Krzyzewski said. "And I'm happy for him. I'm not happy that we lost. But going forward he and his program are a deserving program."
The second half was nip-and-tuck, with neither team leading by more than six.
"I think it goes to the testament to our entire team, our maturity and our experience because we've been through battles like this before and we've lost a couple like this too," Goins said. "Just learning through experiences like that. Even past years — to take it into this game and make the winning plays was big."
The Blue Devils turned the ball over 17 times, including seven in the second half, compared to MSU's seven overall.
"We were in those gaps," Winston said, of the turnovers. "We didn’t let them get driving lanes where they were comfortable. We forced them to pass and if they didn’t, we got our hands in there."
Barrett hit a three from the top of the key with 2:26 remaining to give the Blue Devils a 64-63 lead, and Williamson followed with a driving layup on the next possession.
Tillman's lobbed lay-up off a Winston dish with 1:17 remaining set the stage for Goins' heroics.
Duke led 30-21, and was in the midst of a 12-0 run, when Williamson picked up his second foul with 4:51 remaining in the first half. He sat for about two minutes, and during his time out, Winston commanded the game. He scored or assisted on every made field goal during the Spartans’ 13-0 run to give MSU a 34-30 halftime lead.
The winner of MSU-Texas Tech will take on the winner of top seed Virginia and fifth-seed Auburn in the other semifinal.
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