Chicago — Denzel Valentine heard from Magic Johnson on Tuesday night, soon after he became the fourth player in Michigan State history to record a triple-double.
The senior guard scored a career-high 29 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and handed out 12 assists in No. 13 Michigan State’s 79-73 victory over No. 4 Kansas in the Champions Classic at the United Center.
Minutes later, he took a call from Johnson, who had eight triple-doubles as a Spartan. But it was the exchange Valentine had over texts with another member of the triple-double club — Draymond Green — that played a big role in his and the team’s performance on Tuesday.
“He was talking smack on Sunday night,” Valentine said. “He called out every single player on the team and said, ‘We weren’t gonna do this and weren’t gonna do that. Y’all are gonna lose me money but I’m gonna bet on you anyway.’
“He went off on us. Said (Javon Bess) can’t guard Perry Ellis. ‘You’re not gonna do this and that.’ Credit to Day-Day, man. He knows how to motivate people and he motivated us, definitely.”
Green, now a member of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, was the last Spartan to record a triple-double. He had 24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a victory over LIU-Brooklyn in the NCAA Tournament on March 16, 2012.
Combined with the eight triple-doubles from Johnson and one from Charlie Bell, Green’s three had given Michigan State 12 in its history. Valentine’s was the 13th.
And it added to a history that means as much to Valentine as winning Tuesday’s game.
“Michigan State means a lot to me,” said Valentine, whose father, Carlton, played for the Spartans. “I started a Michigan State fan, and going to the football games as a little kid. My parents had season tickets, going there cheering for State and wearing the football jersey. Basketball season comes and my dad taking us to every game we could go to and watching Kelvin Torbert, Shannon Brown, Maurice Ager — all the greats.
“It means a lot to me to play for this school. It’s a blessing. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege to me, so I want to do everything I can to represent our school and the Michigan State program right.”
He learned plenty of that from Green, even though the two never played with each other.
And Green’s motivation worked for more than just Valentine. Senior center Matt Costello scored 10 points and had nine rebounds against the Jayhawks.
“He said I’d freeze up,” Costello said of his exchange with Green. “I don’t think I did.
“But I love Day-Day with all my heart. It’s impressive how he is able to push us with him doing all the stuff he’s got going on with Golden State. But he’s still able to do it, still cares about us and still sees everything. I’m so happy to have him as alumni and still push us.”
Freshman steps up
For much of the game on Tuesday, guard Matt McQuaid was a typical freshman. The speed of the game was flustering him and he was struggling on the big stage.
“You talk about the deer in the headlights, he had all of it,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “But he hit two big, big shots and made some decent defensive plays.”
Those big shots came at crunch time. The first was a 3-pointer with 3:56 to play that put Michigan State up 68-66. The second triple — his third of the game — gave the Spartans a 75-71 lead with 52 seconds left and he followed that with a blocked shot.
“Definitely that block,” McQuaid said when he was asked which play was biggest. “When I got that block it changed the possession so it played out good.”
McQuaid credited his teammates for keeping him calm and not letting the game get away from him.
“I think I was trying to go too fast,” he said. “Everyone was telling me to slow down and take my time. I slowed down in the second half and ended up playing good. I started picking up my defense and that helped a lot. The upperclassmen just told me to keep shooting and keep playing my game. That helped a lot.”
Start of something good
The Spartans were fired up about their victory, but they were also hoping it would be the beginning of a special week.
“It’s kind of a start of a big week for Michigan State,” Izzo said. “If you’re a Spartan fan you know our football team is going down to Ohio State and hopefully we are leading the way for a phenomenal week for the Spartans.”
No. 9 Michigan State plays No. 2 Ohio State in football on Saturday, a game that likely will send the winner to the Big Ten championship game.
That matchup was on the minds of some of the basketball players, including Costello, who is roommates with junior tight end Josiah Price.
“This is a little momentum and we got Ohio State this week, so Michigan State is gonna be happy. It’s gonna be hopping on campus.”