No. 2 seed Michigan State did it. The Spartans slayed the giants of college basketball. In a thrilling 68-67 down-to-the-wire win, Michigan State ousted No. 1 overall seed Duke at Capital One Arena on Sunday evening, punching its ticket to the Final Four.
Duke, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, had flirted with fire too often in the NCAA Tournament. After single-possession victories over UCF and over Virginia Tech in the second round and Sweet 16, respectively, the Blue Devils finally got burned in a stunning defeat. RJ Barrett had a chance to tie it at 68 from the free-throw line with six seconds remaining, but he went 1 of 2, and Duke never scored again.
Credit to Tom Izzo and Michigan State. This was not a fluky outcome. Duke didn't choke a lead late. Michigan State didn't pull this off in Cinderella fashion. Izzo's Spartans were the better, more sound team for 40 minutes. They led for 22 minutes of game time, and came up big when it mattered.
Spartans star Cassius Winston came up the biggest, though. Michigan State's trusty guard scored 20 points and dished out 10 assists in the winning effort. It was an assist to Xavier Tillman to keep Sparty within striking distance late. A steal. A made jumper. Fittingly, it was Winston, the Big Ten Player of the Year, who dribbled out the final seconds of a game Sparty fans won't soon forget.
Duke's stars were tremendous in their own right. Zion Williamson scored 24 points and grabbed 14 boards while Barrett added 21 points and six boards. But boneheaded decision-making -- careless turnovers, poor shot selection and bad passing -- led to a 17-7 turnover battle won by the Spartans and lost in a landslide by Duke. The Spartans scored 24 points off those turnovers, compared to Duke's nine, and that about speaks for itself.
What's clear after 40 minutes of basketball in D.C. is that the most talented team doesn't always advance. Duke might have four first-round draft picks on its roster, and Michigan State might not have a player get drafted. But what's clear the most: the best team absolutely came away victorious.
The Spartans will appear in their 10th Final Four -- and eighth under Tom Izzo -- next week when they face No. 3 seed Texas Tech in Minneapolis.
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