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A little Magic helps send Michigan State to the Final Four



WASHINGTON – When Magic Johnson showed up for Michigan State's practice Saturday, Tom Izzo simply stood to the side and let the best player in the program's history do a little coaching.

Magic wanted Michigan State to get out in transition against Duke and, as fate would have, the Spartans finished Sunday's epic win with a 15-0 edge in fast-break points.

Magic duty his guys to box out early against Duke, and sure enough, the Spartans corralled a half dozen early offensive boards that helped build the foundation for Sunday's win.

Then he told this season's Michigan state team how much it reminded him of his own title run 40 years ago. Living with the Spartans would be a far bigger challenge.

Tom Izzo and the Spartans enjoy the moment after beating Duke. AP Photo / Alex Brandon

And yet, here they are. Cassius Winston and his 20 points, 10 assists and 1 turnover, a performance that will be covered in Michigan State lore right alongside Johnson's heroics from 1979. Xavier Tillman's grueling battle against Zion Williamson that frustrated the Duke is much more than any matchup this season. Kenny Goins' dramatic 3-pointer with 34 seconds left to give Michigan State a lead, a shot he had missed and missed so often that his coach asked if he'd ever make one.

"I'll make the next one, "he told Izzo.

It was four years since the Spartans made it this far, to a final four with a chance to win it all. For most programs, that's a blip. For Michigan State, an eternity. This is a place where legacy matters, where the legends of the past – Johnson and Mateen Cleaves and Charlie Bell, all in attendance Sunday – loom large.

And now, Winston and Tillman and Goins have their own chapter in Spartans lore.

The Spartans' 68-67 win Duke home, in all likelihood ending the college careers of superstars Williamson and RJ Barrett. Hours earlier, Auburn toppled another blue blood, sending Kentucky to its own tournament exit. Gonzaga and North Carolina and Michigan? Gone, gone and gone this weekend

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Before the game, Michigan State watched a video its production staff had compiled. Players from past Final Four teams all chimed in, offering messages of support, encouragement and advice.

"I have the only good thing about Twitter," Izzo said, "they were all able to send things in via social media. "

Now, Izzo joked, Magic Johnson and others would have come up with a game plan for a national championship, too.

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Michigan State and Duke went back and forth throughout, but Kenny Goins' 3-pointer in the final minute propels the Spartans to 68-67 win.

Thing is, though, there's no plan for the confidence Winston brings to this Michigan state team that, after 20 shots , his teammates just wanted him to shoot more. And there's no advice to give Matt McQuaid when he decides he wasn't quite physically attacking the basket on one shot, so on the next he delivers a jaw-dropping dunk. "I don't know what got into me," he said afterward. Michigan did pick up everything Duke did well all season, forcing Williamson away from the go-to parts of his massive repertoire, to beat the Blue Devils at their own game. No one had done that so thoroughly this season.

All of that, that's a new legacy. That's what they do about Spartans joins Magic and Mate and the others who are staging, and if they finish the job in Minneapolis next week, that's why they'll be mentioned in the same hushed tones.

"We hope to leave our mark, "Winston said." And one day we're going to come back and tell the young guys, this is what it takes to get to this point. and have that same feeling, years and years from now, we'll be back and maybe that same thing. "


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