Charboneau: Costello finds the fire to spark Spartans

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — On Thursday afternoon, Matt Costello sat in the Michigan State basketball office, his head down and his left foot in a walking boot.

Matt Costello celebrates by lifting coach Tom Izzo into the air and twirling him around -- to the delight of the Izzone.

The senior had rolled his ankle the night before, but the physical pain was hardly what had Costello feeling down. The Spartans had just lost their third straight the night before – a one-point home loss at the hands of Nebraska.

Before that was a one-point loss at Wisconsin, which followed a lopsided loss at home to Iowa.

None of this was supposed to be happening to Michigan State, a team that started the season with 13 straight victories — wins over Kansas, Providence and Louisville, included — and had a four-week stay as the No. 1 team in the country.

And it sure wasn’t the way Costello had drawn up his senior year. Coming off last spring’s Final Four run, Costello had planned for nothing less in his final season.

But as he sat there Thursday, trying to contemplate where things had gone off track, there were mostly long pauses, head shakes and short answers.

He was at a loss.

Fast forward a little more than 48 hours and not far from that spot in the office to the floor of Breslin Center.

There was Costello, grabbing coach Tom Izzo in a bear hug, lifting him into the air and spinning him a full 360 before putting him down, then swiping at his head.

It was pure emotion, the kind that is let out when you play 32 minutes, score 15 points and grab 12 rebounds — the last of those possibly the biggest — in a 74-65 victory over Maryland. It was a victory that might have saved Michigan State’s season.

“A heroic effort,” Izzo said, trying to find the right words.

“He didn’t practice for three days, he didn’t do nothing, so I guess practice is overrated. But the guy just sucked it up and played.”

‘Let it flow’

It was hard to single out one player as the reason Michigan State recaptured the winning feeling that had eluded it for nearly two weeks. Denzel Valentine was outstanding, coming up just shy of a triple-double with 19 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. Bryn Forbes broke out of his shooting slump to score 25 and Eron Harris dogged Maryland star Melo Trimble all night.

But for Costello, who said on Saturday he expected to play 10-15 minutes, the pure joy was hard to contain.

As Michigan State held a precarious three-point lead in the final minute, Alvin Ellis’ 3-pointer from the corner banged off the rim with 28 seconds on the clock. That’s when Costello went up in a crowd and wrestled the rebound from a handful of Terrapins.

He kicked it out to Forbes, who was fouled and hit a pair of free throws. That play was enough to have Costello pumping his fists. But his block at the other end on Jake Layman — his third of the game — had him experiencing pure elation.

The Spartans got the win they needed and Costello was just what his coach said — heroic.

“I can’t explain the emotion,” Costello said. “I was thinking about everything. I was thinking about my fiancé in the crowd, my parents being here, my teammates and what we fought through. It was just swelling up and I was just trying to let it flow.”

Winners’ ride

It was the emotion, the grit with which Costello plays, that had his teammates as excited as Costello was.

“Oh my God,” Forbes said. “Matt brings it every time he’s on the court. That’s why we love playing with Matt. In crunch time you know he’s gonna get those rebounds, outhustle the big men, get on the floor. I love to play with a guy like that.”

It led to Costello’s embrace with Izzo, one he laughed about afterward.

“Probably looking back it will be a little awkward, but at the time it was perfect,” Costello said.

Added Izzo, “I could use a ride once in a while, it’s not all bad.”

Costello got to watch the last few seconds tick away from the bench, but when the final horn sounded, he had one more embrace. That one was with Valentine, the fellow senior.

The two held each other close for a few seconds as Valentine had a message for his fellow captain.

“He just said we finally turned it around,” Costello said, “and we’re gonna win a national championship. It’s been our goal since we got here and the seniors have got to lead. He led us tonight.”

Valentine led on the stat sheet, but it was Costello’s heart. It was his fight. It was his emotion.

The Spartans needed them on this night, and they’ll need the same if they have any chance of reaching their goal. Costello feels like they’re at least on the right track.

“We’re not losing anymore,” Costello said.

He paused and added one caveat, “If we play this way.”