WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 Duke that likely ended Zion Williamson’s collegiate career.
Williamson, the presumptive top pick in the NBA Draft and the biggest star of this NCAA Tournament, had a game-high 24 points and 14 rebounds for Duke. But it was Winston who stole the show with 20 points and 10 assists. He made nine of his 23 shots and never shied away from taking it at Duke and shooting at nearly every opportunity in the East Region final Sunday.
“Now is not the time to doubt yourself,” Winston said. “We’ve been working, we’ve been playing all year to get to these moments. Now’s not the time to shy away from those big moments.”
The biggest moment is yet to come.
Michigan State will play Texas Tech in one national semifinal Saturday in Minneapolis. Virginia faces Auburn in the other.
“We’re not done yet, and it feels good,” senior guard Matt McQuaid said.
Winston was the facilitator but the Spartans received a huge boost from their oldest player. Kenny Goins, a fifth-year senior who missed his first four 3-point attempts, drained the go-ahead shot with 34.3 seconds left to put Michigan State up 68-66.
“I was out there, great pass, trusted it and let it go and it went down,” Goins said. “As soon as I let it go, I knew it was good. I was ready to celebrate, but I knew I had to get back on defense.”
Duke had the chance to tie but Barrett missed the first of two free throws with 5.2 seconds left. Duke was helpless with only four fouls, and Winston was able to get the ball away from the Duke defenders and dribble out the clock.
“There wasn’t enough time so I tried to miss the second one and it went in,” Barrett said.
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 second time in seven NCAA Tournament games. Izzo is in the Final Four for the eighth time in his career and tied Krzyzewski what would have been a record 13th appearance.
“I love you all, I appreciate you all. I’ll see you in Minneapolis” Izzo, who wiped away tears, told the celebrating crowd that included Michigan State alumnus Magic Johnson.
Izzo had to navigate foul trouble to 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.
Auburn 77, Kentucky 71 (OT)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The confetti was still swirling around Auburn coach Bruce Pearl when he gazed over a team headed to the first Final Four in school history and declared, “This one was for Chuma!”
“The next two,” Pearl added with a triumphant grin, “are for Auburn.”
Drawing inspiration from injured forward Chuma Okeke, the No. 5 seed Tigers finished off a joyful romp through college basketball royalty by bringing down the winningest program of all. Their 77-71 overtime win over second-seeded seed Kentucky in the finals of the Midwest Region on Sunday came after blowouts of Kansas and North Carolina that served notice: Auburn is more than a football school.
Jared Harper led the way with 26 points, including the tying basket in regulation and a crucial series of layups in overtime. Bryce Brown added 24 points and Anfernee McLemore came up big in the extra session, helping Auburn (30-9) set a school record for wins with its 12th straight overall.