MINNEAPOLIS — Every athlete steps off the floor for the final time at some point in their career. Some see the end coming and can prepare for it, while others are too focused on today to worry about tomorrow.
For seniors like Kenny Goins and Matt McQuaid, Saturday night’s 61-51 Final Four loss was the last time they will ever step on the court with this set of teammates or wearing the MSU green and white.
While it’s difficult for any athlete to finish their college career, it’s even more difficult ending it on a national stage in a game where they didn’t feel they played up to their potential.
“I’m stuck in the middle, I’m hurt we came up short. I’m hurt to send Kenny and Quaid out like that. I’m hurt that we could have played better in this game to win a championship,” junior point guard Cassius Winston said. “But at the same time, I can’t be mad, I feel like a lot of guys gave their all this year, they gave us everything they had.
“They gave us even more than we probably expected out of them. If you get that from guys, it’s hard to be mad, it’s hard to be down.”
Moments after the game, Goins said he was down, but he still takes pride in what the team accomplished.
“I’m sad, obviously I won’t be able to step out there with my brothers again, but it doesn’t stop the fact that I’m proud of every single one of them for what we did this year,” Goins said. “I’ll be proud about this run until the day I die. Like I said, we fell short so I’m gonna be sad right now, it’s gonna sink in, but looking back on this I’ll never be sad with what happened with us.”
McQuaid said he was proud of his time in East Lansing and what the Spartans did this year despite some bumps in the road on the way to Minneapolis.
“Going through all the adversity we went through and the injuries. To be a part of this and help lead on and off the court, it’s been a special year and it’s been an honor to be a teammate with all these guys,” he said.
During a postgame press conference, McQuaid broke down when he was asked about a conversation had and Izzo had during what ended up being the final moments of his playing career as a Spartan.
“We just — I love Coach, and he’s done so much for me and helped me so much. I know he’s got my back, and I’ve got his back for the rest of our life,” he said.
Now that it’s over, he wants to be remembered as a good teammate and someone who contributed to the program.
“Just somebody that gave it their all every day, and never took a rep off and someone that cared a lot about the program and the community. I just wanted to be the best teammate I could and gave it everything I had.”
Izzo said he took a moment in the locker room after the game to address his underclassmen.
“But that’s what I try to tell my guys every year, you know Quaido and Kenny don’t get that chance, and Cash, he might not, who knows. Look at the way the NCAA Tournament went,” Izzo said. “I wish I could be a coach that could explain to my players, ‘don’t ever think about next year, because it may never come.’”
Sophomore forward Xavier Tillman said Izzo told the underclassmen to use Saturday night’s defeat as fuel.
“(He talked) to the freshmen and I about this feeling that we have of defeat and to keep this feeling through our spring and our summer workouts and the fall workouts so that we come into our next year at a different level,” Tillman said.
No matter what players come back next season, MSU will return with a renewed sense of urgency and another year of experience under their belts to pursue the ultimate goal of winning a national championship.