The kelly green and white sea saw rocked back and forth evenly for thirty-nine plus minutes at the Capital One Arena in the nation’s capital. Fans remained on their feet as the Duke Blue Devils adorned in their white uniforms traded scores, with the Spartans of Michigan State University before a missed free throw enabled the Spartans to prevail 68-67.
“I’ve had some great Final Fours, but this one ranks right up there with maybe the best, the way we had to do it all season,” said the Spartan Head Coach Tom Izzo as he heads to his eighth Final Four.
The Spartans, sporting their green uniforms were well-coached, aggressive and confident but came into this game as the underdog and started to act like a team, that was out of their class. Shortly after the mid-way point of the second half, Michigan State spent almost three minutes without a score. The lull in their offense allowed Duke to earn the momentum and control the clock. However, when the Spartans finally hit a field goal, the game was still in-hand and close enough.
The last minute of the game provided the age-old movie drama that brought Duke’s RJ Barrett to the free throw line with two attempts to tie the game. He missed his first opportunity and seemed to try and hit the back of the rim with his second shot only to have the line-drive go through the hoop. With the Blue Devils down by one, Michigan State quickly inbounded the ball and somehow caught a streaking Cassius Winston in the flat as he received the ball with an open court in front of him. As opposed to laying it in for two, Winston began a Curley-Neal-Globetrotter-sprint around the open space to run out the clock.
“It was shocking. I knew I was going to get fouled. I was preparing my mind to knock down some free throws and stuff,” said Winston who added 20 points on the day with ten assists. “But I got the ball and got away. And I was, like, I’m like about to dribble it out, and this is really happening. It was crazy. It was a crazy moment.”
This game was truly a tale of David versus Goliath as Duke was a number one seed bragging potentially four draft choices in their starting five. On the flip side, Coach Izzo is the only Spartan that would be guaranteed to get a job in the NBA. Yet, the role players prevailed and sent Duke back to North Carolina as they head to Minneapolis to take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
“I can’t tell you how many times in those huddles they didn’t quit. They didn’t give in,” said Izzo. “And I say we might not be as physically as tough as some teams I’ve had, but I think mentally we might be tougher than any team I’ve had.”