No. 3 MSU shows early season resolve in title win
Anaheim, Calif. — You wouldn't have believed it earlier in the tournament, when Denzel Valentine was making everything in sight and putting Michigan State on his lean back, but there are going to be nights like this.
And on a night when Valentine wasn't at his best, and when Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn was struggling too, the rest of the Spartans scraped and clawed and stepped up to lead the Spartans past Providence, 77-64, on Sunday night to win the Wooden Legacy tournament championship.
With Magic Johnson sitting behind the MSU bench, and former Spartans star Branden Dawson at Honda Center too, Tom Izzo's team improved to 7-0 on the young season.
"It wasn't pretty, but sometimes, you've gotta grind them out," Izzo said. "You watch the football games this year, and you see when people grind them out, everybody's mad how they win. Well, coaches are always mad.
"These guys have been through a lot. I'm sure if I'd be walking if I had to go through what they went through the last two weeks."
The victory was MSU's sixth in 13 days, from East Lansing to Chicago to Southern California, with another big game looming, against Louisville on Wednesday.
Deyonta Davis had two huge baskets late in the second half and Matt McQuaid drained a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down and a defender in his face.
Those were the highlights of a pivotal, 11-0 run over a three-minute span for the third-ranked Spartans, who trailed by as much as six early in the second half.
Providence player-of-the-year candidate Kris Dunn, playing with four fouls, ended that streak with a 3-pointer to cut Michigan State's lead to 64-60.
Another apparent 3-pointer by Providence in that span was ruled a shot-clock violation after an officials' review. MSU fans, who made up probably 85 percent or more of the 4,393 announced attendance, went wild after officials waved it off, and Providence (6-1) would get no closer than the four it trailed by after Dunn's 3-pointer.
"I didn't play as much as I wanted to," said Valentine, who had two fouls early in the game, and a third early in the second half, limiting him to 26 minutes. "Credit to my guys. They stepped up and they played big.
"It might be like this down the road. I might be in foul trouble or I might not play well, because things happen. And guys have to step up."
McQuaid put an exclamation point on the victory, with a breakaway dunk as the clock was winding down and MSU fans were getting giddy.
MSU led, 34-32, at halftime, but the Spartans, particularly Izzo, were frustrated, as they got outrebounded through the first 20 minutes.
That doesn't happen again, and it didn't happen in the last 20 minutes, and MSU finished with a 35-28 edge for the game, Davis, Valentine and Matt Costello leading the way with six apiece.
Bryn Forbes led MSU with 18 points, including three 3-pointers in the first half when Valentine was either slumping or sitting.
Izzo has been frustrated that Forbes hasn't been getting more shots, and they chatted about that on the off-day Saturday. Izzo concluded some of that was coaches' fault, and Forbes got 12 shots Sunday.
"Me and Coach watched some film," Forbes said. "We just had a little session.
"All of us had to add something."
That was because Valentine, who opened this tournament with a triple-double and posted a career-high 32 points for an encore, wasn't himself.
At one point in the first half, he missed four consecutive 3-pointers, some of them quite badly.
In the second half, he started getting more aggressive and going inside, and he finished with 17 points (several on free throws late) and a team-high five assists — two gems in particular. On one, he chucked the ball all the way down the court, where Davis was waiting for a layin. On another, Costello rebounded, heaved it to Valentine, who found Forbes for a layup, all in the blink of an eye.
Davis finished with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and two days after Izzo called him out, Eron Harris finished with 12 points for MSU, including 4-of-4 on free throws — when the rest of his teammates were 14-of-22.
Nairn missed five of his six free throws and was on the bench late in the game. He finished with one point.
Dunn led Providence with 21 points, but was on the bench much of the second half, with four fouls. He was out for most of MSU's huge 11-0 run.
"When he's on the floor, I think we've got a chance every night," Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "When he comes off the floor, our identity changes."
Ben Bentil added 20 points for Providence, and joined Dunn, Forbes and Valentine as members of the all-tournament team.
No surprise, Valentine was named the tournament's MVP, despite one off game — or, more accurately, an off half.
No worries. His teammates put him on their backs, for a change.
"This is gonna help us in the end," Izzo said. "These guys have been through a lot. By 9 o'clock (Wednesday), we'll have played seven games in (16) days and kind of covered the Earth.
"I give them a lot of credit. I love them.
"They're hungry to win."