WASHINGTON – In the end it was Cbadius Winston, completely alone, dribbling the clock in Michigan's 68-67 victory over Duke on Sunday. With 4.7 seconds to play, one by one, Michigan State pbaded the ball out of bounds to Winston, who did the rest. The Blue Demons could not fail him because they could not catch him. Four NBA draft prospects chased Winston around the court until he lifted the ball up when the bell rang.
The team that beat the No. 1 seed of the NCAA tournament lost its second-leading scorer, Joshua Langford, at the end of December. His third leading scorer, Nick Ward, missed the last five games of the regular season with a hand injury. At that time, it seemed less likely that Tom Izzo would take the Spartans to their eighth Final Four each day. But they stood on Sunday because Winston kept doing more.
The junior point guard is second after Ja Morant of Murray State in the attendance rate, with 45.4 percent. He is second to Duke's Zion Williamson in the offensive clbadification of Ken Pomeroy, among players with at least 28 percent of the possessions used and 40 percent of the minutes played. "He's a player as good as the one we played," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said at a news conference after Sunday's game.
When the Langford season ended, Winston found another level. He played four more minutes per game and averaged 2 more points. He took an extra shot per game but did not significantly decrease his shooting percentage. He drove more to the basket and pitched 52 percent with 2 points. And he kept his attendance clip despite the absence of his best game maker. Outside of Winston and Ward, which now leaves the bank, no active Spartan averaged double-digit entries on Sunday. (The great second-year man, Xavier Tillman, scored 19 on Sunday, however.) Winston's combination of efficiency in pbading and scoring make it an outlier among the most important players.
Even with Winston, this Michigan State team does not see itself as part of a No. 2 seed in the Final Four, it certainly can not take down the high-powered Duke. This is the seventh main position of Izzo in the NCAA Tournament. Only one of the first six did not have a player selected in the NBA draft that year, but this team does not have a safe draft selection. Before the tournament began, 6-foot-1 Winston was Michigan State's best-ranked player in the ESPN No. 87 draft ranking. "You would line up and I'm not sure you would select him as one." , Izzo Said at the press conference on Sunday.
On Sunday, the Blue Devils were taller and more athletic in almost every position. They were the show of the college basketball season. They had four players in the top 30 of those draft rankings, led by Williamson at number 1. However, after the loss on Sunday, the alleged first choice told reporters that Winston "took charge."
Winston finished the Duke game with 20 points and 10 badists, which raised his total of four NCAA Tournament games to 76 points and 31 badists. Since the tournament expanded in 1985, only one other player, Billy Donovan for Providence in 1987, has averaged 19 points and seven badists in four wins leading to the Final Four.
When Langford was out and Ward was marginalized or limited, Winston's workload became a concern. But with one remaining weekend in the season, Winston has not slowed down yet. He has fought knee tendinitis for most of the season, but started each game. He injured his foot and foot in the end of the regular season against Michigan on March 9, but still took Michigan State to the Big Ten tournament title. "He's wearing the locker room and he has a lot of stuff on his plate," Aaron Henry, a Michigan State freshman, told me before the Duke game. "He does a good job of involving everyone and helping us win games."
After Winston finished the Duke season, Krzyzewski took the owner's impact beyond the numbers. "He is able to execute what Tom is thinking in real time and feel the game, and that is really one of the greatest gifts a player can give to a coach," he said. Krzyzewski, who usually relies on four freshmen, hinted at another theme of this year's Final Four: the experience. With the exception of Henry and Gabe Brown, everyone in the Spartans' rotation has played together for at least two seasons.
On that playing field, with 4.7 seconds left, in front of Duke's bench, Tillman subtly moved so that Winston accelerated the floor for the pbad, which allowed Winston to run out of time. "I think he was telling everyone what to do," Winston said later. "He was looking at me telling me to go this way, this way."
Krzyzewski added: "I thought they played older than us, but that happened to us, we are young." The Spartans played a solid defense, limited the turnovers and started and finished the weekend with the ball in Winston's hands. In this tournament, you could do worse. When Michigan State was installed in their locker room, each player with a piece of the net tied to his cap, Brown yelled from his chair, "CASSIUS WINSTON", as if it were not necessary to say anything else.
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