After slow start, Valentine picks up where he left off
University Park, Pa. — Denzel Valentine joked that he felt like a freshman for a few minutes Sunday, but luckily for Michigan State, that feeling didn’t last long.
No. 5 Michigan State was busy dismantling Penn State, 92-65, at the Bryce Jordan Center, but the best news of the day for the Spartans was Valentine’s return. The senior guard had missed the previous four games after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. With 3:36 gone in the first half, Valentine checked in for the first time since Michigan State beat Northeastern on Dec. 19.
It took some time for Valentine to get into a rhythm, but once he did, it was as if he had never left. He finished with 10 points — all in the second half — grabbed four rebounds and had a couple of his trademark no-look passes while collecting four assists.
“It felt good,” Valentine said. “I got the jitters out and responded in the second half. I feel more comfortable now and am ready to move forward.”
A bit of tough love from coach Tom Izzo at halftime sparked Valentine.
“Denzel struggled like we all knew he would,” Izzo said. “What I love about that kid is, you know, I went at him at halftime because I just didn’t think he was playing with the same pizzazz. I don’t care if he plays with the same skill level. You sit out for a time, you want to play with a little bit more … he seemed a little casual and tentative to me, and he answered the bell. You know, that’s what’s gonna make that kid special before he’s done.”
Valentine injured his knee in practice exactly three weeks ago and had surgery the next day. He came close to playing last Thursday against Illinois, but Izzo held him out.
The extra couple of days proved beneficial as Michigan State’s offense hardly skipped a beat. Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris have been carrying the Spartans in Valentine’s absence, and they were good again on Sunday with Forbes scoring 20 and Harris 13.
For Forbes, it felt like his longtime teammate had never left.
“It didn’t feel like there was any adjustment,” Forbes said. “It was the same as when he was here the last time.”
Michigan State gets a chance to avenge its only loss when it hosts Iowa on Thursday. Valentine didn’t play in the first meeting, and getting him back will be vital for the Spartans.
And while Izzo could have played Valentine against Illinois, he was happy to get him back into the rotation before the rematch with the Hawkeyes.
“There was some good about keeping him out of that last game but there was some bad,” Izzo said. “And I really give Denzel a lot of credit, I kind of challenged him to don’t worry about how you feel, you’re medically cleared, worry about what your goals and objectives are, cause he’s got big goals and objectives.
“I thought the second half he did a heck of a job with that, playing within himself and some decent passes. I didn’t think he was in there rebounding like he’s capable of, but that’s understandable and that’s gonna come.”
Schilling’s ‘D’ earns an ‘A’
Gavin Schilling came one point shy of matching his career-best on Sunday, scoring 13 and grabbing seven rebounds. But it wasn’t his offense that was the most impressive thing.
Schilling was tasked with guarding Penn State’s Brandon Taylor, a 6-foot-6 forward who can score inside and out and entered the game averaging 16.3 points a game.
On Sunday, Taylor scored just 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting. Much of that was because of Schilling.
“He’s a 6-9 guy built like Adonis that can guard guards,” Izzo said. “When you can do that, and he’s getting more comfortable guarding people on the perimeter right now. Schilling has got size and speed and strength and that gives us another dimension defensively, that’s for sure.”
Schilling sometimes struggles guarding in the post, something that often gets him in foul trouble. He was whistled for just two fouls Sunday.
“I feel more comfortable defending perimeter guys,” Schilling said. “I like it better than guarding in the post and it’s something I take pride in. Hopefully I can use this game as a confidence-booster and kind of keep it going.”
Michigan State senior forward Colby Wollenman was flying from Penn State after the game to head to Vanderbilt for an interview at the medical school on Monday.
Wollenman, who is on academic scholarship this season, has also had interviews at Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago and Baylor.
… Taylor was honored before the game for passing the 1,000 career-point mark when he scored 18 against Michigan on Jan. 2. He scored 10 points Sunday and now has 1,040 for his career, ranking him 25th all-time for the Nittany Lions.