Bankers Life Fieldhouse
The #2 Michigan State Spartans came out cold, but that didn’t stop them as they dropped Ohio State for the their third win over the Buckeyes in three weeks 81-54. The Spartan have now won 11 of their last 12 games and are steamrolling towards the Big Ten Tournament title and a #1 seed on Sunday for the Big Dance.
Denzel Valentine was his usual self. Simply great with 19 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Eron Harris has 13 points, Matt Costello had 12 and Deyonta Davis played perhaps his best game of the year with 10.
Tom Izzo said of the contest afterward that, “Well, I thought we got off to a little bit of a sluggish start. I didn’t think that we were doing the thing that these guys are so good at. We were defending okay. We weren’t rebounding; getting clean ones. We weren’t running. And uncharacteristic. That’s probably the lowest assist to baskets that we have had all year. And yet, to their credit, you know — like Matt, that’s the lowest number of rebounds that I think he ever had. But to their credit, halftime, they bounce back.”
He went on to say, “I think Zel (Denzel Valentine) challenged some guys in the huddles and the second half. We went into the game with a couple of goals: Number one we, couldn’t put them at the line. (Marc) Loving is averaging 10 free throws a game against us in the two games. We did a decent job of that. They only got 11 free throws. We were only out-rebounded by two the first half and we made that 11 in the second half, and the 14-2 run I thought was because we defended and rebounded.”
But while Izzo tried to be grumpy, he couldn’t. His team is on a roll, “And what I really liked was we struggled. Bryn Forbes missed some wide-open shots; they’ll miss some shots. I always say, you live by the three; you die by it. And we got it inside a little bit, Deyonta, and Matt did a better job second half. We had some nice drop offs. And after Deyonta struggled in the first half, he responded. Coaches always love when players respond. And I thought that was the best part of the night.”
MSU shot 48% for the contest and won the battle of the boards 40-29. Another big statistic in the Spartans favor was the turnovers. MSU forced the Buckeyes to make 14, while committing only eight themselves.
I mentioned in my pre game story that MSU had beaten OSU twice this year by an average of 17 points. So how did the seniors lead this team to another blowout and keep their teammates from looking past the Buckeyes?
Matt Costello said, “I would say it didn’t start in the locker room. It started last night with the seniors. We kind of had a talking and group text, just that we needed to focus today, and it was our job to get everybody ready. Like Zel said, we have better goals to play for. It’s not the just fact that we beat Ohio State twice already by 17 apiece, but we have bigger things to play for, so we have to be ready.”
Denzel Valentine added that, “We have things to accomplish too. It’s March Madness time. It’s time to play. This is what we have all been waiting for. Postseason. This is time. This is where everybody gets to have great moments and has great memories. So we have things to accomplish, and that was one of our goals.”
Buckeye head coach Thad Matta was his usual humble self. He said of this Spartan team, “I have had the pleasure of coaching some of the best teams that have come through here in 12 years. And I think that team right there is one of the best that I have seen. Obviously, Denzel Valentine, I don’t read what is said and I don’t watch a lot of television, but I don’t know where he ranks in terms of his status in college basketball, but I don’t think there’s anybody better than him. He just makes that team go and does so many things. A couple of passes he threw tonight, like, what are you going to do? Hats off to him. He’s going to be a great, great pro.”
With the win tonight the Spartans improve to 27-5 (14-5) in the conference. The Spartans will play Maryland at 3:30 PM tomorrow. You can see that game on CBS. The Spartans faced Maryland earlies this year on January 23 and beat them 74-65.