Niyo: Clark Jr. puts fresh spin on rousing MSU victory
Chicago — This was as noisy as it gets in Michigan State's locker room. It was the kind of celebration usually reserved for championships.
But once things had quieted down, Tom Izzo had a message to deliver, and some praise to dish out. And the player he singled out first — and foremost — was the guy who admits to feeling "forgotten" earlier this winter.
"Give Marv a lot of credit," Izzo told his team, "because Marv got us going."
For Marvin Clark Jr., this was a moment to remember.
Izzo calling him out? That's nothing new.
But calling him out like this?
"Crazy," Clark said. "Really crazy. Because Coach really never gives the freshmen credit."
Saturday, Izzo really had no choice, though, after the Spartans rallied to beat Maryland, 62-58, advancing to Sunday's Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin.
Because with one of his senior leaders struggling, and his team facing a huge early deficit, it was Clark who lit the fuse on the Spartans' biggest comeback in more than a decade.
"Marvin Clark came in and motivated all of us, especially the guy to the right of me," Izzo said at his postgame press conference, motioning toward Branden Dawson, who'd borne the brunt of the coach's grief as Michigan State fell behind by as many as 16 points early.
It was another senior, Travis Trice, who'd gotten the Spartans back on track, paring that lead to eight at halftime.
But it was a couple reserves from that much-maligned Michigan State bench, junior Matt Costello and Clark, who really turned the tide against the Terps, combining for 10 points in a 15-0 run early in the second half. And the biggest play in that stretch was Clark's ferocious dunk that cut the Maryland lead to 36-35 with 13:54 to play.
Clark took a pass from Costello in the corner and had an open three, but he'd already missed a couple of those Saturday and was reluctant to pull the trigger. Especially when saw the baseline open, with Maryland forwards Evan Smotrycz and Jake Layman deep under the basket.
Too good to pass up
"And I was like, 'Man, if I don't take advantage of this, I'm a sucker,'" Clark said, laughing.
He took full advantage, throwing it down so hard he dunked on himself, the ball sent flying off his shoulder as his teammates came flying off the bench in celebration. The eruption was so intense, fellow freshman Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. said he started to cry.
There were times this season Clark probably felt like crying himself, I'd imagine.
He'd played big minutes in the nonconference games, regularly reaching double figures in minutes and points. But then he says he hit the "freshman wall," and as Costello said Saturday, "he sort of disappeared for a while, lost the trust of the coach."
He played sparingly for most of January and February, subbing in "by necessity," Izzo said, rather than by choice. But Izzo stayed on Clark, and Clark kept his chin up — "Me and Coach, we've gotten closer," he said — and when Dawson went down with a concussion 10 days ago, the freshman stepped up.
"He started to play better and better," Costello said. "And today, I mean, Marvin was a beast. So hopefully that solidifies the trust with Coach."
It should, the way Clark played Saturday. There were a couple turnovers, and one glaring defensive lapse, but his four points and four rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench were pivotal.
"If you look at Marv's stats, it doesn't look that crazy," Trice said. "But the two dunks that he had really catapulted us and brought energy and got the crowd into it."
In the crowd was his mother, Donette Collins-Miller, who raised Clark and his five siblings through some truly rough times after his father died in a car accident when Marvin was 3. She still lives in Kansas City, and after arriving in Chicago late Friday night, this was the first game of her son's college career she'd seen in person.
"I kind of almost teared up in the game, but I had to keep my composure," Clark said. "But for her to finally make it out and see me play, and now she's gonna get to see me play in the championship tomorrow, that's an unbelievable feeling."