Xavier Tillman raised an eyebrow toward his star point guard as a sign to catch the Blue Devil defense off balance. Cassius Winston caught it in stride up the court with no one near him, running the clock out, which signaled Izzo’s second win against Duke in 24 years. However, weeks before the Spartans took the court against the Blue Devils Sunday afternoon one thing entered Kobie Johnson’s mind more than anything else—“Zion, and I obviously thought we got screwed.”
When the NCAA Tournament bracket was announced minutes after Michigan State beat the Michigan Wolverines for another Big Ten Tournament title, some fans said one thing was for sure. They would not and could not be in the Blue Devils’ region, especially with a resume like theirs. MSU did not get so lucky.
Once again, standing in their way, on the road to the Final Four, was Duke.
“How would anyone on Michigan State handle him (Zion)?” asked Johnson.
Despite everything Tom Izzo has accomplished for East Lansing—nearly every encounter he has ever had with the Blue Devils has ended in defeat. Hence, his ugly 1-11 career record against them.
“I thought we should have won then, but I just remember hating J.J. Redick and how it seemed like toward the end they were just talking. That year I felt like we were the better team. I thought we would beat them. I was more worried about Kentucky.”
Although there is no denying Duke’s dominance since Mike Krzyzewski took over as head coach in 1980. He has more than 1,000 victories and five national championships. There is not a bigger behemoth in college basketball and with the help of the best player in the nation, it seemed it was going to happen again.
“I remember I was at the bar and they went up 9 or 10. The bar just got silent as if to say here we go again,” said Johnson during the Spartans Elite Eight matchup with Duke.
There simply were not too many reasons to be optimistic heading into this one. The only other time an Izzo team beat the vaunted Blue Devils was back in the 2004-2005 season where they would square off in the Sweet 16.
At this point, no modern MSU team had ever beaten Duke, and they responded with a double-digit victory to go to the Elite Eight.
That said, to Johnson sports is more than just the product itself.
“I think people are walking around with their chests out; it renews a sense of pride.”
This is a mentality that extends well beyond the streets of East Lansing. He was recently in Texas last week where he said: “it is always fun to wear green and white on the road, and you hear people yelling across the airport go green!”
Spartan fans are everywhere.
“If you are not even in East Lansing. All around you people are giving you little fist bumps and saying good luck,” said Johnson. “Everyone seems to like Michigan State.”