Spartans take punch, survive against Boilermakers
East Lansing — With Branden Dawson laid out flat in the locker room Wednesday night, Travis Trice was essentially on his own.
In the last home game of his career, the Michigan State senior had watched as his classmate took an elbow to the head in the first half against Purdue; he wouldn't return. On top of that, for nearly the entire first half, the Boilermakers took it to the Spartans.
"When I came in the locker room at halftime and he wasn't in here," Trice said, "I thought, 'This can't be good.' "
Dawson, also playing his final home game, was done for the night. It was then that Trice and junior guard Denzel Valentine looked at each other.
"Denzel and I talked at halfcourt after halftime and he was like, 'Dude, we have to take over,' " Trice said. "We were missing BJ and that was key, especially in a game that comes down to being physical and you're missing your toughest guy. So Denzel and I said we have to pick it up."
And that's exactly what they did, as Trice matched a career high with 27 points while Valentine added 17 in Michigan State's 72-66 victory at the Breslin Center.
"He really stepped up," Valentine said of Trice. "That's what you need your senior leader to do at the end of the game. If he plays like that we have a good chance at making a Final Four run."
That is still to come, but on this night Michigan State (20-10, 11-6 Big Ten) was playing to solidify an NCAA Tournament spot and keep alive a shot at a double-bye in next week's conference tournament.
And they had to do it short-handed against the biggest, most physical team they had seen all season. Not only did Dawson leave the game, Valentine went to the locker room for several minutes in the second half to wrap a twisted ankle while Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn also was grabbing at his leg. Trice also took a shot late when trying to put the game away at the free-throw line.
Add foul trouble on Gavin Schilling, and Michigan State relied on heavy minutes from Matt Costello and former walk-on Colby Wollenman.
"We had so many guys that stepped up," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "Whether it be guys like Costello or Colby, my Wyoming flash. He did so many things."
Costello scored 13 points, had seven rebounds and four blocks while Wollenman played outstanding defense, had a tip-in of a Trice miss and dished a beautiful pass to Marvin Clark for a 3-pointer late in the second half.
The biggest spark from the pair came defensively, as they held Purdue's two bigs in check. A.J. Hammons scored just seven points while Isaac Haas had nine. Kendall Stephens scored 16 to lead Purdue (19-11, 11-6) while Dakota Mathian scored 12 and Jon Octeus had 11.
"Costello was great defensively, doing some really good things," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "We just had to do a better job of keeping our balance in the post and shooting shots. A.J. had a couple good shots, but they just didn't drop for him. We just have to be better at what we do. Sometimes late in the season, it just doesn't go your way."
As good as they were, Trice was the catalyst in the second half, scoring 18 of his 27 after halftime.
Valentine sparked a 12-3 to open the half as Michigan State eventually pushed the lead to 47-37, but after Purdue cut the lead to 47-42, Trice took over. He hit two straight 3-pointers and even had a few words for his dad, his former high school coach.
"He coaches you that long, you can hear his voice," Trice said with a smile.
The surge was capped seconds later when Costello grabbed a Trice miss from the line and dunked it to give the Spartans their biggest lead at 56-44 with 3:57 to play.
"That was big for Matt," Trice said. "He answered the call. I'm happy for Matt not only as a friend and roommate, but he made plays down the stretch."
Purdue managed to get within 64-58 on a few 3-pointers, but Michigan State made just enough free throws to put the game away.
"That was a gut check," Izzo said. "That was a character-building game. And maybe it builds character for this team for the rest of the season. Maybe it builds character for them for the rest of their lives. But somewhere they're going to know that they can suck it up and get it done even when some things are stacked against them."
The win created a four-way tie for third place with Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State and Iowa, with Michigan State holding the tiebreaker on all three.
Michigan State closes the regular season Saturday at Indiana.
"Our thing is to go to Indiana and try to get a win," Trice said. "We're playing for a better seed and we know the difference in one extra game in the Big Ten tournament can be big for us. We're not as deep as we usually are so one game can be a big difference."