WASHINGTON D.C— The day before Kenny Goins hit the biggest shot of his life, in the bowels of Capital One Arena, he interrupted junior point guard Cassius Winston’s press conference to ask his own question. If Winston could pass the ball to any teammate, with the game on the line, who would it be?
“Big Shot Quaido,” Winston said, pointing to senior guard Matt McQuaid, leading Goins to question whether he and Winston were truly friends.
So Sunday night, when the former walk-on knocked down a three with 34 seconds left to beat top-seeded Duke 68-67 and send Michigan State to it’s tenth Final Four, he reminded Winston of that conversation.
“Maybe he’ll change it now,” Goins said, smiling. “I told him he was doubting me.”
The play was simple: Winston passed to sophomore forward Xavier Tillman at the right elbow, then ran right through the left side of the paint, setting a back screen on Duke freshman forward Zion Williamson. Both Williamson and freshman guard Tre Jones’ eyes followed Winston, who had scored a team-high 20 points.
The play, funnily enough, was Winston’s idea.
“I knew everybody probably thought I was gonna have the ball in my hands — we were running a lot of ball screens down the stretch,” Winston said. “So, just to get it out of my hands a little bit, that was the first option on the play.”
Goins went to the left side of the three-point arc, and got a perfect pass from Tillman.
“As soon as it left my hands, I knew it was going down,” Goins said. “Just had to watch it go through at that point.”
Williamson had used every inch of his 6 foot, 7 inch frame and 40-inch vertical leap to block a Goins three-point attempt just minutes before, which was in the back of everyone’s mind as he tried to recover to contest Goins’ deciding shot.
“I asked him why he didn’t pump fake,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “He said, ‘coach, he was 15 feet from me.’ I said, ‘my man, I showed you tape of that all yesterday. He can block a shot from one baseline on the other.’ But, it did take courage to take that thing. I give him credit. It was a catch-and-shoot.”
Winston was asked what it was like to try to set a screen on Williamson, who has one hundred pounds (all of it muscle) and six inches on him.
He shrugged, laughing at the absurdity of it.
“You know what I’m saying, I held my ground a little bit,” Winston said. “He got by me pretty quick, but I gave him just enough, it worked enough.”
Junior guard and team captain Joshua Langford, out for the season with a stress fracture in his left foot, saw the shot as something ordained by a higher power, the result of Goins making sacrifices and working over the course of a five-year career.
“It’s some things that are already written, some things that have to happen,” Langford said. "I knew that shot was going in … (God) is the best in the business when it comes to refunds. Kenny’s getting his refund right now.”
Izzo was reminded he didn’t offer Goins a scholarship out of Troy’s Warren Mott High School.
“In our minds, we thought he wasn’t quite good enough,” Izzo said. “That shows you how poor of evaluators we are, because he has been a big key to this season.”
So, what made Izzo decide to give Goins a scholarship in his second year, after he turned down the chance to go to school for free at smaller Division I colleges?
“I was predicting that five years from now, we’d be in Washington, D.C., and I’d say, ‘Kenny why don't you shoot that damn three and see if you can get us to a Final Four?’” Izzo said.
Goins made four threes total in his first three years after being redshirted in 2014-15. The game-winner Sunday was his 56th of this season, at a 38 percent clip.
“Kenny was one of those guys that liked the game, then he started to love the game, and now as a senior, in his fifth year, he’s starting to spend a lot more time on the game,” Izzo said. “He got what he deserved.”
Goins was told his shot will almost certainly be part of the “One Shining Moment” montage next Monday night.
“That’s what you dream of as a kid is the opportunity to hit that shot,” he said. “The fact that I even got an opportunity to is just amazing to me.”