It’s almost too perfect that the man — yes, man — that ended Zion Williamson’s college career is a fifth-year senior that started out his career as a walk-on.
Hell, Kenny Goins almost didn’t end up at Michigan State because the Spartans didn’t have a scholarship to give him initially. The Troy, Mi., native and lifelong Spartan fan was a good high school basketball player, but one that looked like a better fit at one of the directional Michigans as opposed to UM or MSU.
Even when Goins was offered a spot as a preferred walk-on, he struggled with the decision of whether or not to play his college ball in East Lansing. Goins’ mother had mounting medical bills, and the weight of a full tuition was not something that he wanted to burden his family with.
“My dad, I remember him saying at one point, ‘Don’t even worry about the money thing,'” Goins told MLive.com of the conversation that finally convinced him to accept the offer that Michigan State made. “‘If that’s what’s holding you back, don’t even worry about that, just pick, and we’ll figure out the money thing after.'”
It didn’t take long for the Spartan coaching staff to figure out that Goins was going to be a contributor to their program. By his second year on campus, he was a scholarship player. By his third year on campus, he was a starter.
But no one — and I mean no one — could have imagined after the first two years that Goins played in East Lansing that, with less than a minute left in a one-point game in the Elite Eight against the No. 1 overall seed, Tom Izzo would draw up a play that would put Goins in a position to fire up a potentially game-winning three.
He did not shoot a single three-pointer as a freshman. He didn’t shoot a single three as a sophomore. He did, however, shoot a combined 62.9 percent from the free throw line in those two seasons. Heading into his redshirt senior year, Goins had attempted all of 15 threes in his career.
That’s changed this season.
Goins is firing up more than four threes a night, banging them home at a 36 percent clip and doing so as the best pound-for-pound rebounder on Michigan State’s roster. He’s become an invaluable cog in Izzo’s lineup, and nothing proves that more than what happened on the final possession of regulation.
As I detailed in the video below, one of the staples of Michigan State’s offense is to have Cassius Winston run off of a back-screen and he initiates an action. This allows the Spartans to move him around the floor as they get the defense chasing him. The counter to this — which they only ran twice against Duke — is for Winston to set a pindown for Goins, which allows them to then get Winston into an open-side ball-screen action with the other big that is on the floor:
The final possession of the game wasn’t even necessarily drawn up for Goins.
One of the options in the set that Michigan State ran is for Goins to shoot that three, but if you watch the play, Winston is in the middle of setting a back-screen for Xavier Tillman when Goins lets that shot go. There was more to that action than what we saw, but we never actually saw it.
That’s because Kenny Goins, the walk-on who didn’t attempt a three until he was in his fourth year in the program, broke off a play with 38 seconds left, down 66-65 in the Elite Eight against the No. 1 overall seed, and buried a three over a player that not 10 minutes early had blocked one of his three-point attempts.
And the fact that it was that player making that play that sent Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and the rest of the Blue Devils packing just about sums up March Madness perfectly.