Champaign, Ill. — Matt Costello sure has come a long way in just three days.
On Wednesday night in Michigan State’s victory over Northwestern, the sophomore forward had little to no energy, playing just 15 sporadic minutes as he continued to try to get his conditioning back after missing four games with mononucleosis near the end of non-conference play.
But on Saturday at Illinois, he looked more like the player from the start of the season than the one who spent days in bed late in December.
In No. 4 Michigan State’s 78-62 victory over Illinois on Saturday, Costello had eight points, five rebounds and a career-high six blocks. More importantly, he played 25 minutes and had as much energy as he has all season, even getting a dunk on one fast break and scoring off a pair of pick and rolls.
His play had Michigan State coach Tom Izzo singing Costello’s praises.
“Running the floor, we talked about that,” Izzo said. “The break got going better and all of a sudden Gary (Harris) is getting to the hole a couple of times. Matt not only did that but the job he did on the ball screens. (Illinois) is good at penetrating and I thought Costello was everywhere and when he was out we weren’t as good. Matt and (Denzel Valentine) had their best games if you looked at overall things. Matt tires some but it was way better than last week.”
Costello admitted he didn’t feel great in the Northwestern game and has struggled, feeling good some days and not so good others. But that wasn’t a problem on Saturday.
“I think I’m getting my energy back and I wasn’t quite as tired,” Costello said. “Today I was more up and ready to play so I was able to get on top of the ball screens so the guards couldn’t drive and it worked better.”
Costello added he hopes to be near 100 percent soon.
“There are some good days and some bad days,” he said after recording a career-high six blocks. “There are more good days than bad and when I have a bad day I just have to fight through it.”
Izzo earned his 215th Big Ten victory, moving him past former Illinois coach Lou Henson and into fourth place on the all-time list.
“It’s kind of good, but all it means is I stayed here longer where some coaches have moved around and I stayed in the same place, the same league, the same school,” Izzo said. “I’ll call Bobby and make sure he realizes there are no worries, nobody is catching him.”
Izzo was talking about Bobby Knight, who is first on the list with 353 wins. Gene Keady of Purdue is next with 265 and former Purdue coach Ward Lambert has 228 victories.
Senior Adreian Payne missed his third straight game with a sprained right foot, but Izzo said X-rays on Friday showed everything is on track and he hopes Payne will be closer to a return sometime next week.
“They’re encouraged by the bone growth and he could start shooting this week, maybe even tomorrow,” Izzo said. “I think he’s ready to go medically, it’s whether the pain is there when he runs and that will be his call, to be honest.”
… Michigan State struggled with rebounding early in the season but has now won the battle on the glass in three straight games. The Spartans grabbed 38 rebounds to 25 for Illinois and held a 24-10 edge at halftime.
… Michigan State is 9-0 away from home, including 5-0 on opponents’ home courts. That is the best start in school history.