Michigan State coach Tom Izzo knew his team’s trip to Italy would be a physical test, and that came to fruition on Friday when the Spartans faced the Russian national team in Trieste, Italy.
The older, more experienced Russian team got off to a fast start and rarely looked back in a 93-75 victory over the Spartans, but it was exactly the type of game Izzo was looking for when he scheduled the trip.
“I thought (Russia was) one of the more physical European teams that I have seen,” Izzo said. “I thought that was good for us. We did some good things, but we did more poor things as far as how we guarded. The way they moved the ball, I was almost cheering for them underneath my breath because we were dribbling it and they were moving it.
“It will be a good lesson for us, and we will get a lot out of this. This was a very, very, very good game for us to play in. We came back a couple of times and made some runs. Our fast break looked good and that is what their coaches said to me at times, but we couldn’t defend. And that is what we are usually pretty good at. We did not defend the ball screens very well, and we fouled too much.”
Senior Denzel Valentine scored 21 to lead Michigan State, which will play the Italian national team on Saturday and the Georgian national team on Sunday. The games are part of a tournament the three national teams are using to prepare for Eurobasket 2015, which will be held in September to determine the European qualifiers for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Gavin Schilling added 17 points for the Spartans, who shot 45.5 percent from the field, including 32 percent from 3-point range.
Russia's first four field goals were 3-pointers and it closed the opening quarter with a 14-0 run to take a 32-13. But Michigan State cut the halftime deficit to 50-40 behind 16 points in the quarter from Valentine.
“Denzel was phenomenal, and in the first half he was unbelievable,” Izzo said. “Second half he wore down a little bit but still played very good. I thought we got a lot out of Gavin (Schilling) tonight. He did a lot of good things.”
Michigan State was outrebounded, 34-26, by the bigger Russian team, and the Spartans will be challenged again on Saturday.
“Unfortunately, just watching a little bit of the Italian team, I think they are a lot better than the Russian team,” Izzo said. “One area we really struggle with is the size. You don’t see that kind of size in America. Their guards were big and about 230- 240 pounds, which hurt us a little bit. They switched everything and gave us some problems. It’ll be a good exercise on how to get better, though.”