Michigan State Spartans defeat Duke Blue Devils 68-67
Cassius Winston put Michigan State on his shoulders and carried the Spartans into the Final Four. For the first time since 2015.
The do-everything point guard took over the game when his team faced its biggest deficit and led second-seeded Michigan State to a 68-67 victory over overall No. 1 seed Duke on Sunday in the East Region final.
Duke boasted the biggest stars in Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. But Winston shined brightest with 20 points and 10 assists. Furthermore, he made nine of his 23 shots and never shied away from shooting.
The 2018-19 men’s college basketball season was largely defined by the Duke Blue Devils. But, much to head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s disappointment, they will not be part of the Final Four on Saturday.
“They’re deserving of special things, and they have had a special year,” Krzyzewski said. “But not going to the Final Four is obviously a huge disappointment for us.”
The biggest moment is yet to come for Michigan.
Michigan State will play Texas Tech in one national semifinal Saturday in Minneapolis. Virginia faces Auburn in the other.
Michigan State is in the Final Four for the eighth time under coach Tom Izzo, who beat Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski for just the second time in 13 meetings and the second time in seven NCAA Tournament games.
Izzo had to navigate foul trouble for 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.
Falling short likely ended the college career of Williamson, the freshman sensation expected to leave Duke for the NBA.
“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.”
Krzyzewski lived that dream for much of the season, but the group of freshmen was unable to lead Duke to its 17th Final Four in program history.
“It’s very upsetting to think about,” Williamson said, per Hale. “You see all the faces in this locker room, and I’m just trying not to focus on [the future].”
That future will almost surely include hearing his name called as the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, meaning he likely missed his one opportunity to cut down the nets as a Final Four participant. Making it even harder is the fact that he didn’t get the chance to decide the game on Duke’s final possession.
Williamson finished with a game-high 24 points and 14 rebounds. Barrett had 21 points — but not the one that could have sent the game into overtime.
While Michigan State will have the opportunity to add another championship to its own storied legacy, Sunday’s game will be remembered as much for Duke’s failure to live up to expectations as the Spartans’ monumental victory.