Cassius Winston, Michigan St Stun Zion Williamson, Duke to Advance to Final Four

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2019

Michigan State forward Nick Ward (44) and Kenny Goins (25) celebrate with teammates after beating Duke at the end of the NCAA men's East Regional final collage basketball game in Washington, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Michigan State won 68-67. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally
Mark Tenally/Associated Press

The Michigan State Spartans are headed to the Final Four for the 10th time in program history.

Michigan State defeated the Duke Blue Devils 68-67 on Sunday in an Elite Eight clash of heavyweights in Washington, D.C. The Spartans were the No. 2 seed in the East Region and will play the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the national semifinals, while the top-seeded Blue Devils fell one game short of their 17th Final Four.

Kenny Goins drilled a go-ahead three in the final minute for the Spartans, and RJ Barrett missed a potential game-winning three-pointer and then one of two free throws that could have forced overtime on Duke's final possession while Zion Williamson didn't get a final shot. Cassius Winston dribbled out the clock for Michigan State to end the game.

In a weekend filled with thrilling games that came down to the final second, college basketball fans couldn't have asked for more in this showdown.

The game featured 16 lead changes and a nail-biting finish with the following sequence: Barrett's three-pointer put Duke ahead by one, Williamson's layup put Duke ahead by three, Winston's alley-oop to Xavier Tillman cut the lead one, Goins' three-pointer put Michigan State ahead for good, and Barrett's missed three and free throw ended Duke's season.

While Goins hit the biggest shot of the game, it was Winston who spearheaded the victory for the Spartans with 20 points, 10 assists and four steals. He had just one turnover against Duke's stout defense and consistently made the right decision in the face of legacy-defining pressure to conquer men's college basketball's top team.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Cassius Winston joins Magic Johnson (twice) and Draymond Green (twice) as the only Michigan State players with a 20-point, 10-assist game in the NCAA Tournament. https://t.co/nAzBcfzlB2

March Madness TV @MarchMadnessTV

"There's better college guards than Cassius Winston, there's no better leader." Charles gives credit to the leadership of Cassius Winston for @MSU_Basketball's run to end the half. https://t.co/bGSF8AgLOF

Tillman added 19 points and nine rebounds, while Goins finished with 10 points and nine boards.

It was the Williamson and Barrett show for the Blue Devils, as the two freshmen combined for 45 of the team's 67 points. Williamson stuffed the stat sheet with 24 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks and three steals, while Barrett added 21 points, six assists and six rebounds.

Duke was the tournament's No. 1 overall seed and served as the dominant storyline throughout the season with presumed No. 1 pick Williamson's gravity-defying dunks, Barrett and Cam Reddish as potential top-five picks providing offensive firepower and all-time great Mike Krzyzewski leading the way on the sidelines.

However, it entered Sunday's clash as anything but unstoppable, and it showed out of the gates.

Michigan State—which won its first three tournament games by an average of 16 points—pounded the offensive glass and used its trademark physicality to jump out to a quick lead.

Eli Hershkovich @EliHershkovich

Michigan State flat-out dominating the glass.

The slow start was more of the same for the Blue Devils after they trailed with less than three minutes in the first half against the No. 16 seed North Dakota State, needed a miraculous four-point possession in the waning seconds and a missed game-winner from Aubrey Dawkins to survive No. 9 Central Florida, and avoided overtime against Virginia Tech when Ahmed Hill missed a layup at the buzzer.

Duke has too much talent to be held down for long, though, and started switching everything on defense and suffocating the Big Ten representative during a 21-5 run.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Cam 💦 RJ 💦 Duke back in control #MarchMadness https://t.co/1y90eklnV3

Seth Davis @SethDavisHoops

Duke is one of the few teams in the country that can legit switch 1 through 5. I've been saying for a while this might be the best defensive team Coach K has ever had. Efficient, disruptive, disciplined about not fouling.

A lesser team would have folded as Barrett and Reddish—who returned from a knee injury that sidelined him in the Sweet 16—drilled three-pointers during the spurt, but Winston and the Spartans demonstrated incredible resiliency and threw a 13-0 counterpunch to seize a four-point halftime lead.

Chris Vannini @ChrisVannini

This MSU team never panics. That Duke run was when every other MSU team falls apart against the Blue Devils.

The Blue Devils made no secret about who they would go to after the slow start.

Williamson scored their first 10 points of the second half with overpowering strength on the blocks and even a three-pointer. Throw in his head-turning blocks and ability to turn the rebounding advantage on its head with his patrol of the paint, and it was clear there was little the Spartans could do with No. 1 outside of hoping to match his production.

Josiah Turner @JosiahsTurn

There’s nothing Zion can’t do. Can drive by you, can dunk on your head—as we all know—can occasionally knock down a three, and a solid defender who’ll send your shot to row L in section 222. Complete package.

Winston made sure his team did just that as the two blue bloods continued to trade the lead.

The guard's veteran leadership was on full display as he penetrated against Duke's defense with his ball-handling, facilitated when caught in traffic, answered runs with critical three-pointers and created points on the other end with his steals.

Winston set the tone, but it was far from a solo effort as the Spartans refused to go away. Matt McQuaid and Tillman dazzled with a reverse layup and and-1 dunk to put the pressure firmly on the No. 1 seed in crunch time.

The Blue Devils didn't deliver, and it is fair to wonder what could have been if Williamson took the final shot in what will surely be his only collegiate season.


What's Next?

Michigan State will face Texas Tech on Saturday in the Final Four. The Red Raiders clinched their spot on college basketball's biggest stage by defeating Gonzaga to win the West Region.


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