Chicago — Michigan State talked on Monday about winning a big game in November.
It did that on Tuesday against Kansas in the Champions Classic, but the real story was the unbelievable game from Denzel Valentine.
The senior guard scored a career-high 29, grabbed 12 rebounds and handed out 12 assists to become the fourth Michigan State player to record a triple-double as he led the 13th-ranked Spartans to a 79-73 victory over the No. 4 Jayhawks.
"Oh my God," said Valentine, who also had a career-high in assists. "I didn't know when it was gonna come and I didn't think I was gonna get it on this stage this early (in the season), but credit my teammates. They played a hell of a game. … 10-for-23 (shooting) wasn't pretty, but it got the job done."
Valentine's triple-double was the 13th in Michigan State history. Magic Johnson had eight, Draymond Green had three and Charlie Bell recorded one. The most recent was Green's in the NCAA Tournament against LIU-Brooklyn on March 16, 2012. He finished with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in that game.
"That's great company to be with Draymond, Magic and Charlie Bell," Valentine said. "I'm blessed."
Just as impressive was the fact Valentine and Johnson are the only players to ever record a triple-double against Kansas. Johnson scored 12 points, had 10 rebounds and added 11 assists against the Jayhawks on Feb. 4, 1979.
"He sucked it up," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "He gives me credit, but I give him credit. He's a lot like Draymond. There's a million things he's not good enough at, but winning is something he's good enough at. Work ethic is something he's good enough at and basketball IQ is something he's good enough at and those things just won us a big game.
"That is good company, only four at Michigan State. That's good company and thank God he's mine."
Midway through the second half, it appeared as though Valentine's effort wasn't going to be enough.
Kansas was pulling away from the Spartans and opened an 11-point lead at 61-50 with 9:43 to play. But Michigan State sliced the margin to 62-58 with 8:02 to play on a Valentine fast-break layup and eventually took its first lead since 6-4 when Valentine hit a 3-pointer to put the Spartans ahead, 65-64, with 4:48 to play.
The back-and-forth battle with the tension of a March tournament game continued before freshman Matt McQuaid nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Spartans up 75-71 with 53.1 seconds left and then blocked a shot at the other end.
"Matt McQuaid, golly," Valentine said. "How about him knocking those big-time threes down? He's somebody that impressed me the whole summer and the whole off-season and the first two games. He shows toughness."
Kansas managed to cut the deficit to 75-73 with a pair of free throws from Wayne Selden Jr. with 30.5 seconds left. But Valentine hit a pair of free throws and freshman Deyonta Davis put the game away scoring the final two points on free throws.
"Give us credit, and yet, I know Kansas made mistakes they're not gonna make, either," Izzo said. "They're a very, very good team and well coached. All in all it was a big win for our program."
It was Michigan State's second straight win over Kansas (1-1) in the Champions Classic and the Spartans improved to 3-2 in the event, it's other victory over Kentucky two years ago.
"This (event) we've done decent in," Izzo said. "But I want to win more of these early games. It's time to start winning some big games and take this program to another level and this is what we've got to do to do that."
Senior Perry Ellis scored 21 to lead Kansas while junior Frank Mason III had 14 and Selden added 12 points.
Senior Bryn Forbes scored 13 for Michigan State (2-0) while senior Matt Costello added 10 points and nine rebounds.
"We didn't finish down the stretch and didn't guard like I thought we did in the first 30 minutes of the game and then Valentine just took over," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "They made a ton of plays late.
"A disappointing loss, obviously."
The first half had plenty of whistles as the teams combined to pick up 25 fouls — 15 for the Spartans and 10 for the Jayhawks — but it was Kansas that was able to take the early advantage.
After Michigan State took a 6-2 lead, Kansas went on an 11-0 run to go up 13-6. The Jayhawks eventually pushed the lead to 28-15 as they hit several contested shots. Ellis scored 14 before the break on 6-for-11 shooting, presenting matchup problems for the Spartans.
The Spartans worked their way back into the game, however, as Forbes scored five straight followed by a pair of free throws from Costello to cut the margin to 28-22. Kansas extended its lead to 39-29 with less than two minutes to play to halftime, but Michigan State whittled the margin to 41-35 at the break behind eight points, six rebounds and seven assists from Valentine.
"This just gives us a little momentum," Costello said. "We're on our way. Zel and I have a goal of 33 wins and we got the first two to be the winningest class in Michigan State history. We got the win in the big game."
Not in action
Michigan State played without junior center Gavin Schilling (turf toe) and sophomore forward Marvin Clark (foot), while Kansas was still without freshman forward Cheick Diallo, who hasn't been cleared by the NCAA.