By Josh Adams
Washington- Tre Jones was doubled over at mid-court as the final horn sounded at Capitol One Arena. His head was buried in his jersey as a few of his teammates tried to console him. The Duke point guard just saw Michigan State’s Cassius Winston run away from the scrum of players after getting the inbounds pass and hoist the ball in the air as the final few seconds ticked off the clock. The dream was over for Duke. The Spartans advanced to the Final Four with a 68-67 win over the top seeded Blue Devils and the coronation of Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett into the pantheon of Duke legends will never come to pass.
Winston was spectacular in the win, garnering 20 points and 10 assists and winning the East Regional’s Most Valuable Player as Michigan State returns to the Final Four for the first time since 2015.
Barrett had a chance to tie the game with 5.2 seconds left as he drove into the lane and was fouled. His first free throw hit the back of the rim and his second attempt when he tried to miss it for a rebound attempt somehow went in. That left Duke to try and attempt a steal but they didn’t have enough fouls on the Spartans to send them to the line and elongate the game.
“All credit to them. They played a hell of a game.”, said Barrett after the contest “But for it to be over for us is heartbreaking.”
Duke was must see TV this season with Williamson’s freakish athleticism on display almost nightly. The freshman from Spartansburg, SC will certainly be the number one pick in the next NBA draft and had a terrific game on Sunday, scoring 24 points with 14 rebounds.
“I’m very upset obviously because I wanted us to go to the Final Four.”, said Williamson, “And now just look at our locker room seeing your teammates and your brothers. And you think this group will probably never play together (again).”
The path to get to the Elite 8 was far from easy for Duke. It took last second misses from UCF in the round of 32 and Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16 in order to have the Blue Devils advance to Sunday’s game.
Michigan State seemed to hit their stride in Friday’s blowout win against LSU and they had a quiet confidence about them going into Sunday. Michigan State’s coach Tom Izzo had a little bit of controversy in this year’s tournament as he was caught on camera going irate on Aaron Henry and having to be reatrained by some members of the team. Winston defeneded his coach after the game. “It’s all love and caring and he pushes us to be the best we can be.” said Winston about Izzo in the postgame press conference.
As Michigan State prepares for the Final Four and their Semifinal game against Texas Tech, the heralded Duke freshmen now go back to Durham and wonder what could have been. They will be a team that no one at Duke will ever forget but a Final Four banner won’t be a reminder of their season. In the end, for Coach K and Duke basketball, that’s the only legacy that counts.