Struggling MSU freshman McQuaid taps Valentine's wisdom

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — It comes at different times for each player, but it is nearly inevitable that all freshman will hit a wall at some point in the season.

For Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid, it was clear he was banging his head against that wall as Big Ten play opened and he went three straight games without scoring a point. So the 6-foot-5 guard did what any smart young player should — he leaned on his more-experienced teammates.

“Everybody was telling me that you're going to have your days and how you respond to them is what makes you," McQuaid said. “They've been helping me out a lot, giving me confidence, and they've been telling me to be aggressive. Denzel (Valentine) has been constantly telling me to just keep playing my game.”

Valentine has had time on his hands to do some coaching, sitting out the last four games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. There’s a chance he plays Sunday at Penn State, and on the court or off, McQuaid is grateful for his guidance.

“He helps a lot,” McQuaid said. “I can’t wait to get him back out there.”

While he’s been gone, McQuaid has played himself out of a slump.

Matt McQuaid practiced at his alma mater Duncanville (Texas) High while the team visited Dallas over the holidays.

Spartans star Valentine says return �getting close�

He didn’t score in a win over Oakland or the loss at Iowa. Then Michigan State spent a few days in Dallas, and McQuaid got to be close to home for the first time in quite a while. The Spartans practiced at McQuaid’s alma mater, Duncanville (Texas) High, and he got to see his old coach and some of his friends.

“It was definitely an amazing experience and I’m glad I got to do it,” McQuaid said. “I haven’t been home in a long time and I got to see some old faces and my mom and dad. It was fun.”

It also appears to have been the refresher McQuaid needed. He didn’t score in the win over Minnesota but was more comfortable with the ball and played 30 minutes without a turnover. And when Michigan State hosted Illinois on Thursday, McQuaid responded with his best game.

He scored a career-high 10 points and matched a career high with five assists.

It’s been a tough transition for McQuaid, a two-guard who has been playing the point as Lowrawls Nairn’s primary backup. It’s kept him from looking for his shot, something he and Izzo hope will start changing.

“He even passed up a couple of shots tonight,” coach Tom Izzo said after the Illinois game. “He’s one of the best shooters and he’s passing up shots. But it’s a lot to throw at the kid, he’s been in a little mini-slump, hadn’t scored a bucket in the Big Ten.

“I thought he took a giant step tonight in all honestly and hopefully he’s going to continue to get better. He made some great passes, you really can start to see his basketball IQ is very high. We’ve got to take advantage of that a little more.”

There’s no doubt Michigan State will benefit from a more aggressive McQuaid, even when Valentine returns.

He’ll look to score more, he said, but he also understands his value goes far beyond scoring.

“I still think I can defend the ball a lot better,” McQuaid said. “Just getting in the gaps and some other things. I have a lot of improvement to make on defense.

“I’m just trying to do my job and help the team any way I can.”

No. 5 Michigan State at Penn State

Tip-off: Noon Sunday, Bryce Jordan Center, State College, Pa.

TV/radio: BTN/WJR

Records: Michigan State 15-1, 2-1 Big Ten; Penn State 10-6, 1-2