Spartans play better but lose to Italian national team

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Denzel Valentine

The result wasn't much different than it was the previous day, but Michigan State's 90-69 loss to the Italian national team in Trieste, Italy, on Saturday was a significant upgrade from its 18-point loss on Friday to Russia.

Denzel Valentine led the Spartans with 23 points while Bryn Forbes scored 17. Michigan State made a late run and cut Italy's lead to 70-65 in the fourth quarter, only to watch the Italians close the game on a 20-4 run. Marco Belinelli, a nine-year NBA veteran, led Italy with 25 points.

"We played so much better than we did yesterday, and I think this is a better team," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "We did play better, but we lost by a point or two more than we did last night. The score was not indicative of the game. For 35 minutes, that was a pretty good game. I thought we did a lot of better things."

The game was the second in a three-day tournament where Michigan State is playing the Italian, Georgian and Russian national teams as they prepare for Eurobasket 2015, which will be held in September to determine the European qualifiers for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Michigan State will face Georgia at noon Eastern in the final game on Sunday.

After trailing 44-34 at halftime, Italy pushed its lead to 65-51 in the third quarter before a 12-3 Michigan State run in the fourth quarter cut the margin to 68-63. After trading baskets, Belinelli hit a 3-pointer to spark the final run by the Italians.

"It is a national team that had NBA players, and those guys are good," Valentine said. "We can't complain about the effort. … We are just trying to figure ourselves out and find our identity. We have done well so far, it just kind of stinks that we were only five down in the fourth quarter and couldn't take that to the next step. It is early though, and guys are figuring out what they need to do. We can take that and learn."

Michigan State shot 44.3 percent from the field and 47.6 from 3-point range while outrebounding Italy 39-33. Gavin Schilling had eight rebounds and Matt Costello had seven. However, the Spartans turned the ball over 23 times.

"Twenty-three turnovers is ridiculous, but it is hard when you are trying to play 12 guys, and we are trying to figure out who is who," Izzo said. "But this is great for us. We are so much better than if we would not have been playing in these games. Tomorrow will be tougher. It is a whole different kind of team. Tomorrow is a smash-mouth team. It is Purdue on steroids."