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Forbes, Clark give MSU boost off the bench

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Syracuse, N.Y. — Michigan State has talked all season about needing its three best players to be on top of their game in order to win.

That was true Sunday in the 76-70 overtime victory over Louisville that sent Michigan State to the Final Four, and it's been true most of the season.

But what has been nearly as vital over the past few weeks for the Spartans has been the bench play. Contributions have come from everywhere: Junior Bryn Forbes hitting shots, sophomore Alvin Ellis attacking the basket, freshman Marvin Clark regaining his confidence and even former walk-on Colby Wollenman scrapping and grabbing key rebounds.

On Sunday, it was Forbes and Clark that played huge rolls.

Forbes, one of the Big Ten's best shooters, was 4-for-6 from 3-point range and scored the first five points of overtime.

"I told myself if I got an inch I was gonna let it go," said Forbes, a transfer from Cleveland State. "My teammates were making great plays, getting in the lane and I was wide open. Good thing it worked out for me."

His final three-point attempt missed from the corner, but Branden Dawson was there to grab the rebound and put the miss in in. It was a play that showed the confidence the Spartans have in Forbes.

"That's a shot that Bryn hits at a high percentage," Izzo said. "Not only did he miss it, but B.J. was there for the rebound. That's the faith we have in Bryn. We set it up knowing he'd have a great shot in the corner."

For Clark, the numbers weren't the same, but the impact was. He played 18 minutes and spent much of the game guarding players far bigger than his 6-foot-6 frame.

But his biggest moments came at the end of regulation. With Michigan State trailing, 64-63, Denzel Valentine fed Clark in the lane for a shot that banked off the glass and went in, putting the Spartans ahead with 40 seconds to play.

On Louisville's next possession, Terry Rozier missed a jumper and Clark grabbed the rebound over 6-foot-10 Mangok Mathiang. He was fouled and missed two free throws, but instead of sulking on the bench, Clark was ready when he was called on again in overtime.

"I've gotta tip my hat to my teammates," Clark said. "They kept me in it and told me it (the missed free throws) was over with and to move on. We had another five minutes to play. I'm happy coach gave me the opportunity to step up and play again."

Clark played all but 47 seconds of the overtime after Gavin Schilling fouled out.

"I thought in general, he did a lot," Izzo said of Clark. "I think at the end, when I asked him how he missed those two free throws, he acted like he didn't need them there. He's saving them for next week. So maybe that's OK."

Nairn gets call from mom

Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn doesn't get to see his mom often. She is in the Bahamas, Nairn's home country, and has only been able to see her son play once this season in person.

When the team took the stage to accept the trophy for winning the East Region, Nairn had a phone to his ear and was wearing a wide smile.

He was talking to his mom.

"I was just listening to her cry," Nairn said. "I told her 'we're going to the Final Four.' "

His mom said she could see him on TV and continued to cry. It was a touching moment for the freshman who rarely gets to see his mother.

But, Nairn said she is going to try and make it to Indianapolis next week.

"Yes," Nairn said. "Hopefully."

Magic praises Izzo

Michigan State had its No. 1 fan back behind the bench, and Earvin "Magic" Johnson was as happy as anyone on the court.

The NBA Hall of Famer, who won the NCAA Championship with the Spartans in 1979, has been at every tournament game and has been a consistent presence with the team, giving them pointers and offering encouragement along the way.

Sunday he talked about a Michigan State team that is hitting its stride.

"When you think about the highs and lows, we've been high and we've been low," Johnson said. "But we got it together in the Big Ten tournament and that has carried over to the NCAA Tournament and they feel good about themselves. You've got a tremendous team that is playing good basketball at the right time and executing Coach Izzo's game plan to perfection.

"Give Coach Izzo a lot of credit. He worked his magic once again and that's why we all love him and why he is one the best college basketball coaches in America."

Slam dunks

Michigan State entered the game shooting just 62.8 percent from the free-throw line but was 15-for-20 on Sunday, a 75 percent success rate.

It was the best performance by the Spartans in the NCAA Tournament, and other than going 9-for-9 in the loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, it was their best showing since a win at Illinois on Feb. 22 when they shot 85 percent.

… Izzo is 13-9 in the NCAA Tournament when MSU is the lower-seeded team, an NCAA record.

… Each of Michigan State's last nine wins have been by single digits. The last time it won by double digits was 80-67 at Michigan on Feb. 17.

… With 11 rebounds, Dawson moved into seventh place all-time at Michigan State with 895, surpassing Goran Suton (887).

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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