MSU's Valentine knocks 'em down at crucial juncture

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Charlotte, N.C. — The free-throw line hasn't been Denzel Valentine's favorite spot this season.

Or more specifically for the Michigan State junior, the free-throw line late in games has been an uneasy position.

For a player that entered Friday's game against Georgia in the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament shooting 82.6 percent, that might seem odd. But the Michigan State captain has had all sorts of problems in close games.

He missed late at home against Michigan, which led to overtime, and in the next game, he deferred to Bryn Forbes.

But with Georgia rallying in the final seconds, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo made it clear he was putting his faith in Valentine.

"I told Denzel, 'You're getting the ball and you're shooting them,' " Izzo said. "I told him in the huddle because as you know we've had a couple of times where that hasn't happened. I said, 'So we're winning or losing with you, that's the way it's gonna be. No debate, no decisions.' And for once, I made the right decision. But give him credit, he knocked them down. And on a day where we didn't shoot great from the line, but we made some at the clutch time."

Michigan State was 11-for-19 after going 9-for-9 in its last game against Wisconsin. But the six straight from Valentine in the final minute were just enough for the Spartans to hold on for a 70-63 victory.

"I knew that I didn't play my best in the first half and I didn't want to let my team down," Valentine said. "If we had lost, I didn't want to have to say it was because of me. I went to the line to make up for it and I just knocked them down."

Izzo admitted Valentine and senior Travis Trice, who was 1-for-2, are being asked to do a lot and can get worn down at the end of games. But it still didn't change Izzo's approach.

"Didn't even care; didn't even matter," Izzo said. "We've got some guys worn down ... and I think that's where some of the mental mistakes are coming. And he's got to do a lot of things for us and I just told him, 'Are you feeling good enough? Good. Ball's going to you.' Didn't let him answer."