Spartans stop lamenting loss, get NCAA-ready

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
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East Lansing — On Monday night, a little more than 24 hours after Michigan State came within seconds of upsetting Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament title game only to lose in overtime, Tom Izzo brought his three most important players into his office.

Seniors Branden Dawson and Travis Trice and junior Denzel Valentine sat down with their coach. With the start of the NCAA Tournament days away, they were focused on getting past one of their most bitter defeats.

"I think everybody cleared the air," Izzo said. "I know I feel better about it, and I think they do, too. There was a hangover for a day, which I say happens once in a great while. For players, it doesn't happen as much as it does for coaches. They are more resilient.

"But by last night, I think it was over for everybody, and we are ready to move forward. I think that helps us both from a fatigue standpoint and from an emotional standpoint."

Moving forward begins Friday when No. 7 Michigan State plays No. 10 Georgia in the second round of the East Regional in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It will be the final shot for Trice and Dawson to win a title — a victory over Wisconsin would have given them three conference tournament championships in three seasons — but getting over the last loss might be the toughest for Valentine.

It was Valentine who had the game in his hands in the final seconds before throwing the ball away with the Spartans ahead by two points. The Badgers took advantage by tying the game with a pair of free throws and then dominating overtime.

Valentine used most of Monday to get all the help he could in putting that play in the past.

"It hurt and I thought about it that night and yesterday," he said. "But we had a meeting and we just put everything out on the table and we're moving forward now. You can't do anything about it and just got to move forward. ... We're still in the (NCAA) Tournament and we're playing some of our best basketball right now.

"I've been talking to a lot of people and they've been pretty much saying the same thing, which is, 'You can't do that again and you have to learn from your mistakes. Don't stop playing your game but you've just got to learn from those mistakes.' "

The fact the Spartans get back on the court Friday helps, and the fact Valentine will be such a big factor is important. He was on against Wisconsin, hitting a 3-pointer to tie the game in the final minutes while scoring 16 and handing out six assists.

"I told Zel he can't get caught up in it," Trice said. "It's basketball and you're gonna make mistakes. People might blame you and say you lost the game for us, but if he doesn't play the way he did then we're not even in the game.

"I think he's done a great job bouncing back. You can tell it affected him, you can tell he was hurt. But I think as of yesterday he was over it and he was moving on. That's the beauty of having a game around the corner in the NCAA Tournament. We have to focus in and not worry about last week."

A victory over Wisconsin would have been as gratifying as any, Izzo said, considering the path Michigan State took.

But he believes his team, and Valentine, will be better for the loss.

"We were playing the best Wisconsin team ever and we had just come off Ohio State and Maryland," Izzo said. "The road there was kind of like the road to the Final Four in 2005 when we had to go through Duke and Kentucky.

"So I try to figure out any way I can learn. I know this: I am not polished, I am not a finished product yet, and I am still learning. I think sometimes we are afraid to admit that. We are supposed to know everything. I don't and when you're dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds, and you have to face family matters, girlfriend matters, this matters, that matters. It's amazing the different things you go through in a season, and the more you go through it, the more experience you have, the better it is."

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