Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – It was hard to please Tom Izzo on Friday night, but Michigan State still advanced to the championship game of the Orlando Classic.
Junior guard Denzel Valentine scored a career-high 25 points and was 8-for-14 from the field in No. 20 Michigan State's 79-68 victory over Marquette at the HP Field House. Travis Trice added 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds while Marvin Clark scored 10.
It as a performance that was good enough to send the Spartans (5-1) into Sunday's championship game at 1 p.m. against No. 11 Kansas, which beat Tennessee, 82-67, in the other semifinal.
But Izzo was focused on what his team did not get done against the Golden Eagles.
"Well, it was a win, but I thought Marquette played harder than us," Izzo said. "I didn't enjoy a lot of that because I thought (Marquette) played harder than us and that doesn't happen very often. … As I've been telling you we have some guys that are soft and that is a four-letter word at Michigan State and not a good one."
Izzo's biggest issues were Michigan State's defense — one night after the Spartans had one of their best defensive efforts of the young season — a total of 16 turnovers and the inability to stay out of foul trouble.
Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello were each on the bench for the most of the first half with two fouls and even when Michigan State went up by 15 midway through the second quarter, the defense and lack of focus frustrated the coach.
"Somebody must have mistook me when I said, 'Don't let them turn the corner,' " Izzo said. "They must have thought I said, 'Let them turn the corner.' So that really bothered me, as you can tell, all game. It was just, I mean they just did it one time after another after another.
"I was disappointed in the cerebral approach in what we did. Three minutes left and we're up 10 and we're jacking 3s. We beat a good team, I mean they're a good team. They'll win a lot of games. They play hard. They make hard cuts. They're not the biggest team but it doesn't matter."
Duane Wilson was the spark for Marquette (3-3), scoring 15 points by getting to the basket. Matt Carlino, who scored a tournament-record 38 on Thursday in a win over Georgia Tech, was held to 14 points on 4-for-13 shooting.
Michigan State will get a chance to prove it can put together a more complete performance Sunday when it faces Kansas. The Jayhawks had their own scare before pulling away against Tennessee.
Perry Ellis scored 24 and Cliff Alexander added 16 for Kansas.
"I'm looking forward to it because now this is a more talented and bigger team," Izzo said. "If we do the same things we'll get blown out. If we get blown out then we got to go back home and regroup, which I do every year it seems. But on the other side of it, if we do the things we can do, I think we got just a good a chance of winning it as anybody else."
While that wouldn't include the 16 turnovers or the 29-28 disadvantage on the glass the Spartans had on Friday, it will likely include another outstanding offensive performance from Valentine.
He missed his first shot but got hot from that point and finished 6-for-10 from 3-point range.
"I don't know if it's about the baskets," Valentine said. "Trav and my teammates do a good job of looking for me, and I've been in the right spots. I just knock them down. In shoot-around I wasn't really shooting that good. I'm just happy my teammates had confidence in me to give me the ball and I just shoot it."
Valentine also sparked the decisive second-half surge. With the Spartans holding a 52-47 lead, he hit a 3-pointer that would ignite a 13-2 run and give them their biggest lead at 65-49 with 11:07 to play. Valentine had another 3-pointer in the run, and Lourawls Nairn then had two straight steals. The first he took the distance for a layup and the second led to a triple from Trice.
Marquette didn't go away, however, and a 13-3 run got the Golden Eagles to within six with less than five minutes to play.
The Spartans answered with a free throw from Dawson and a 3-pointer from Bryn Forbes to push the lead back to 10 with 3:40 to play. But the Golden Eagles scored the next four, only to watch the Spartans pull away for good with Trice and Valentine putting the game away at the free-throw line.
"Basically I told my guys I was proud of them," Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "I was proud of their effort, their energy and how hard they worked. But in order to beat a quality team like Michigan State, it's got to be more than effort. You have to combine a 40-minute effort with smart decisions for 40 minutes."
Ellis still out
Alvin Ellis missed his fifth consecutive game with a sprained ankle while Dawson was replaced in the starting lineup by Clark for the second straight game. Dawson is still recovering from the flu that kept him out of Monday's game against Santa Clara.