Forbes, Costello help Michigan State crush Illinois
East Lansing — On Wednesday night, it looked like Denzel Valentine’s absence from the Michigan State lineup was about to end.
The senior had just gone through his second straight full practice and the medical staff had cleared him to play after he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee a little more than two weeks ago.
But by the time the Spartans were going through their shoot-around before facing Illinois on Thursday, things changed. Coach Tom Izzo just didn’t feel right about putting his star back in the lineup.
“I thought maybe we were going to play him,” Izzo said. “In the walkthrough, he wasn’t his bubbly self, so I made a Mateen Cleaves decision not to play him. He could have played, wanted to play, but he wasn’t there yet.”
Cleaves, of course, came close to returning from an injury early in the 1999-2000 season before Michigan State played at Wright State. That game ended in the Spartans being upset on the road. Fortunately for Michigan State, there was no repeat performance on Thursday.
Bryn Forbes scored 17 and Matt Costello had nine points and 14 rebounds, just missing his second straight double-double, as No. 5 Michigan State cruised to a 79-54 victory over Illinois.
“I felt good yesterday and thought I’d play,” said Valentine, who has now sat out four games. “Then today, I felt good but not quite where I wanted it to be. I thought I’d feel 10 times better. I’m still about 90 percent but I want to be 100 percent when I get back and there’s no point rushing it with the team we’ve got.”
That team was never threatened against an Illinois squad that is even more shorthanded than the Spartans. The Fighting Illini played without leading scorer Kendrick Nunn, crippling an already depleted lineup.
unn was back in Champaign, Illinios, for the birth of his child. Nunn averages 18.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a game and scored 14 in Illinois’ win at Breslin Center last season. Illinois was also without forward Leron Black, who has missed seven games with a knee injury while center Mike Thorne Jr. has now missed nine games with a knee injury. Senior guard Tracy Abrams is also out for the season with a ruptured Achilles.
“Remember Illinois is missing a good player, but of course so are we,” Izzo said. “We jumped on them early and that was the difference in the game.”
The Spartans (15-1, 2-1 Big Ten) took advantage of the depleted Illini and broke open a tight game midway through the first half and led 47-22 at the break. Thirteen players saw action in the first half with nine of them scoring.
Eron Harris added 13 points for Michigan State as nine players scored. Deyonta Davis had 10 points, six rebounds and four blocks while Matt McQuaid scored a career-high 10 and matched a career high with five assists.
“After about the first five minutes we really started to get things rolling — things started going our way,” Forbes said. “I think we could have played better, but still played pretty well. It’s just nice to know that we’re coming out of this game on a good note instead of not playing our best.”
It was the first time Michigan State had played at home since a Dec. 12 victory over Florida, and the comfortable atmosphere was crucial.
The Spartans shot 61 percent in the first half and finished the game at 53 percent (33-for-62) while they outrebounded Illinois, 46-27.
“I thought we took a couple of bad shots in the first half, but we played to what we do, to our roles,” Izzo said. “We have talked to our players about it. We explained, ‘Do what you do, do what you do best, don’t try and reinvent the wheel and do things that you don’t do, because that’s not going to get you more time.’
“I thought our breakout guys — McQuaid and Deyonta — were better. At the end, DD struggled a bit but he was better. Matt might have had one of his best games in a while as far as throwing great passes and running our team. He’s still not looking for a shot enough but he’s getting better.”
Even with Valentine out, Illinois (8-8, 0-3) had few answers.
Maverick Morgan scored 15 with 11 coming at the free-throw line. Michigan State did a decent job of containing Malcolm Hill, who entered the game averaging 17.9 points a game but was limited to 10 on Thursday.
“I thought we played too much hero ball,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “Mentally we just weren’t very good. I’ll give my guys credit, they wanted to play and came out and played hard, but when you play a team like MSU, especially in here, effort is not enough. You have to execute. I think we regressed a little from where we were Sunday (against Ohio State).”