Spartans clamp down on Trimble at pivotal time

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn, Jr. kept watch on Maryland freshman Melo Trimble.

Chicago — Melo Trimble has done his share of damage against Michigan State.

The Big Ten's Freshman of the Year scored 17 for Maryland in the first meeting this season against Michigan State and followed that with 24 in a one-sided Terrapins victory in mid-January.

So needless to say, Trimble was at the center of Michigan State's attention Saturday as the Terrapins and Spartans squared off in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament at the United Center.

"He probably owes me one," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said, "because he was struggling from the three by the time we played him the second time, and I think he went five for six in the first half of that game and seems like ever since he`s really been shooting the ball better. When he shoots the ball well, that brings a whole other dimension to his game. He can get to the free throw line, he doesn't miss, he can get in the paint. He can do a lot of different things. He's got some size. He's got some strength. I'm a big fan."

And for the first few minutes on Saturday, it looked like it was going to be another big day for Trimble. He hit his first five shots, including three 3-pointers, as Maryland was in complete control.

But the success ended there, and much of that was due to the defense of Michigan State freshman Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. After making the first five shots, Trimble missed his next nine before making two late when the game was decided.

He finished with 22, but he wasn't nearly as effective in the second half when Michigan State rallied from a double-digit deficit to win, 62-58, and advance to Sunday's championship game.

"I think he got a little bit tired," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "We couldn't get him a lot of good looks. He got a couple late, one went all the way in and came out, a big three, I think we were down one, it would have put us up two. He's terrific. There's a reason we're 27-6, because we have a really good point guard."

Nairn didn't play much in the first two games against Maryland, but after slowing down Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell on Friday, he put plenty of work in preparing for Trimble.

"I just got into him a little bit," Nairn said. "The shots he took early were in rhythm and I just kind of got into him and made it tough for him. I think he got frustrated because I knew what he liked to do. I studied film and saw it and tried to make it tough on him to score because he's a great scorer."

Not only did Trimble have a hard time, but Dez Wells was held to 10 points and Jake Layman had six. Wells had 16 in the first meeting and Layman scored 23 in the second.

"I thought the way our guys responded showed some character, showed some grit," Izzo said. "Hopefully it'll help us down the road."

Out of sorts

Denzel Valentine admitted it took him a few minutes to find his legs on Saturday.

"For me it was (hard to get warm)," Valentine said. "I didn't have my legs at first when you only get that 25-minute warm-up."

While Valentine eventually loosened up, he never really found his shot. The Michigan State junior scored just three points in the victory over Maryland, though that 3-pointer gave the Spartans their first lead at 38-36.

"We called a play and I came off the screen and just didn't think about it, just let it go," Valentine said. "It went in, and that started off the spark."

Valentine finished just 1-for-8 from the field and turned the ball over twice in the first half. But instead of sulk, he focused on contributing in other ways. He played solid defense in his 37 minutes of action and handed out seven assists while grabbing four rebounds.

"I was thinking in my head, my shot is not falling," Valentine said. "I would shoot it, but I was not going to force it. I'm gonna get rebounds, I'm gonna pass it and I'm gonna defend. That's what I did."

Slam dunks

Michigan State's senior class improved to 9-1 in Big Ten tournament games. The Spartans also improved to 24-13 in the Big Ten tournament, including 5-7 in the semifinals. The Spartans are 11-6 when the tournament is in Chicago, including 3-2 in the semifinals.

… Michigan State has won all three postseason matchups with Maryland. In addition to Saturday's win, the Spartans defeated the Terrapins in the 2003 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, 60-58, and in the 2010 second round, 85-83.

… Nairn is the first freshman to start for Michigan State at point guard in the Big Ten tournament since Kalin Lucas in 2008. Drew Neitzel (2005) is the only other Spartan freshman to start at the point in the Big Ten tournament.