EAST LANSING — Matt McQuaid watched from near midcourt as the ball rolled to his roommate, Kyle Ahrens.
Ahrens picked it up, drove to the basket, rose up, dunked it over Florida's Andrew Nembhard with less than 10 seconds to play and hung and swung on the rim.
Kyle Ahrens beats the buzzer with a clutch slam as Michigan State ruins the Gators bid for an upset. pic.twitter.com/2ZdiJxgmGe— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 8, 2018
As referees huddled around the monitor to make sure Ahrens beat the shot clock, Ahrens walked back to Michigan State's bench. Kenny Goins greeted him with a handshake and a shove. McQuaid came up behind him with a hug.
Three players who know what it's like to miss time with injuries. And three Spartans who have returned to make key contributions all season.
"When you're hurt on the bench and you can't go out there and compete when you're a competitor, it's one of the hardest things to do, especially to do what you love," Ahrens said after practice Wednesday. "And just to go out there when you're tired, you're kind of like, I love being tired out here, I love having this feeling compared to being on the bench sitting when you're hurt."
Ahrens' dunk helped No. 9 MSU survive a strong road test and beat the Gators, 63-59, on Saturday. It was the redshirt junior's fourth straight start in place of McQuaid, who returned to action after sitting out three games with a deep thigh bruise.
"I feel pretty good, I just gotta get back into game shape," said McQuaid, who had just three points in 18 minutes at Florida. "It just comes along with getting reps and getting back in the flow of things."
McQuaid, a senior captain, said he hopes to be closer to 100 percent Sunday when the Spartans host Wisconsin-Green Bay at Breslin Center (5 p.m./BTN).
But he, Ahrens and fifth-year senior Goins are enjoying the opportunities to play significant roles and significant minutes for the Spartans after significant injuries between them over their careers.
Knees and legs. Feet and ankles. Broken noses and abdominal repair.
Games missed. Summers lost.
And plenty of perspective from three players who have been around the program longest and have endured about 10 surgeries between them.
"Those three guys have been through it," MSU coach Tom Izzo said. "And when somebody else gets a tweak here or there, I just say, 'Hey, ask Kenny what it's like' or 'Ask Quaido what it's like.' But they're excited about feeling good, too."
Ahrens missed all of last season and took a redshirt after suffering a preseason foot injury, a stress fracture that eventually broke and required a second surgery. The 6-foot-6, 206-pound 22-year-old already learned how to deal with injury when he suffered a season-ending broken leg during his junior year at Versailles High in Ohio.
Ahrens — who started four games last season — filled a vital role when McQuaid went down, posting career highs with 15 points and 41 minutes in an overtime loss at Louisville. Then Saturday, he scored all seven of his points in the final 3:03 against Florida. Ahrens is averaging 5.9 points and 2.8 rebounds in a career-best 19.2 minutes per game.
"Kyle stepped up and did a great job in the lineup. He's been great," McQuaid said. "We've been roommates since freshman year, and he was saying how hard it was when I wasn't there. I was so happy to see him do good against Louisville, and then the Florida game. I'm so happy to see him have success after all he's been through."
Goins has been the most injury-prone of the three, with three knee surgeries, two sports hernias and "a couple broken noses" that have at times required him to wear a plastic mask. That doesn't even include the scratched eye and eyelid the 22-year-old suffered at Louisville that briefly forced him to wear protective glasses.
"You just kind of gotta shrug it off at this point," said Goins, who is MSU's leading rebounder this season and third in the Big Ten at 10.0 with 6.6 points per game. "That kind of takes a toll on you, just getting over it mentally for a little bit. But then after a while, you just gotta say, 'I have to play,' or else you restrict yourself in certain ways."
McQuaid underwent double sports hernia surgery that cost him the entire summer between his freshman and sophomore seasons, but the 23-year-old had only missed one game coming into this season.
However, the thigh injury he suffered against Texas in the Las Vegas Invitational flared up on the Spartans' trip home. McQuaid did not travel with the team to the next two road games at Louisville and Rutgers.
"That was one of the hardest things I've done in college, just not being able to be at the game, and I had to watch it from home. That was hard for me," said McQuaid, who is 6.7 points in 25.9 minutes per game. "My teammates were texting me and calling me. Coach called me. Even (Dave) Pruder the equipment manager was texting me. It was crazy. That made me feel a little better, but I wanted to be at those games so bad."
McQuaid returned to action Saturday at Florida and was glad to return from his brief absence. And Ahrens is ecstatic to be feeling more like he did before all his injuries.
"I appreciate a lot, like just being out there on the floor. And that's what I tell people," Ahrens said. "That second when people are out hurt, it's a different feeling. You take a lot for granted, that's for sure."
This article is written by Chris Solari from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.