Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Moments after Michigan State dismantled Ohio State for the third time in three weeks last night, the 27-5 and #2 ranked nationally Spartans walked out of their locker room. Without a breath of arrogance or over confidence they began to speak and what they said was profound.
When a reporter inquisitively questioned seniors Matt Costello & Denzel Valentine about how this team found the motivation to blow out a desperate Ohio State team by 27 points when they already had by an average of 17 twice, they wasted no time in showing their edge. I have said that I believe MSU will their third national title in program history and the second for Tom Izzo and their responses solidified it.
Denzel Valentine the unquestioned leader went first, “We’re desperate too. We want to win the championship. We can’t worry about their feelings and them being desperate. We have to worry about us and how we play. We didn’t accomplish one of our goals, and that was to win the Big Ten Championship outright. And we’re kind of mad about it. Me and Matt never won a Big Ten Championship outright. So we are kind of mad right now, and we have something to play for; that we want to be the No. 1 seed. We have goals too. It’s just not them. And that’s what I think people misunderstood.”
He went on to add, “We got back to playing Michigan State basketball, you know. The first half was really uncharacteristic of ourselves. We were taking bad shots. We were complaining. We were out there, not being ourselves. In the second half we settled down, got the shots we wanted. And we got on transition too, and that led to easy buckets. Deyonta Davis, he was really good in the second half. He was blocking shots, talking, being around the rim on offense. He was great for us in the second half and led to us getting that lead.”
Matt Costello the senior center expounded, “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.”
Now I know Tom Izzo well. I consider him not only a man that I cover, but a friend. As he sat listening to his star players responses he smiled wide and big. I asked about hearing that from his players who have given him so much.
“We didn’t play very well in the first half. It was uncharacteristic. They were right. Coaches were upset, players were upset. It wasn’t lopping. It just wasn’t being us. We weren’t moving the ball like we do. And really the best thing that happened is Bryn struggled, best thing for our future, because we had to learn to play without. He had some good shots; didn’t go in. Zel had some good shots; didn’t go in. Then he started pressing a little bit. First thing he said to me when we got in the locker room, “I was pressing.” I said, “Yeah, you were. You don’t have to because you can help us win games in so many other ways.”
He continued by saying, “So in a sick sort of way, that was good for us. It was good for us to go through that. We challenged DD (Deyonta Davis) at halftime. I challenge guys all the time, and I love to see a young guy respond. And he really did. He did some good things. And Zel is challenging guys. At halftime, “You going to let me to this or do you want to jump in and help me? These guys are bigger than me. They’re your size.” He did a good job the second half. I decided we wanted to go inside more. We did the things we needed to do, and that’s encouraging. And we grew the second half. We didn’t hang our heads at halftime. We came out with that big run and that was a difference in the game.”
Even Buckeye star Marc Loving couldn’t help but praise the Spartans in the post-game. He said of the men in green and white, “They’re a fantastic team. They played a really good game. And hats off to them.”
The Spartans need to win nine games this post season to conquer the Big Ten Tournament and a national title. One down, eight to go. The next chance comes today at 3:30 right back here in Indianapolis at the semifinals for the Big Ten Tournament. That game can be seen on CBS!