MSU takes down Maryland in 'must-win' game
East Lansing — Denzel Valentine admitted he was starting to wonder what it felt like to win a game.
It was easy to understand considering No. 11 Michigan State was in the midst of losing three straight and staring at a sub.-500 record in the Big Ten as No. 7 Maryland came to town on Saturday.
But Valentine said this matchup was going to be like a “championship game,” and the Spartans picked the absolute best time to turn in a championship effort.
Valentine had 19 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists while Bryn Forbes scored 25 in Michigan State’s 74-65 victory over Maryland at Breslin Center. Matt Costello added 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks as he overcame a sprained ankle to play 32 minutes.
“It was a must win,” Valentine said. “We were determined. We refused to lose that game. We responded every time they went on a run.”
It was exactly what Michigan State (17-4, 4-4 Big Ten) needed to get back on the winning track after dropping two straight one-point decisions. Those losses had the Spartans reeling, making a record start to the season and a four-week stay at No. 1 feel like ancient history.
Now, the confidence is back.
“We needed it a lot,” Forbes said. “We’ve been struggling for three games and no one saw that coming after starting 13-0. But to come back and play the way we played, be who we are, do the things that we do, it felt great.”
The Spartans were far from outstanding offensively, shooting just 36.1 percent. But they turned the ball over just eight times and outrebounded Maryland, 46-36. Seventeen offensive rebounds led to 15 second-chance points.
It was the sort of effort coach Tom Izzo has been looking for.
“I thought that was the hardest we played in years,” Izzo said. “It was a big win for us, but it doesn’t put us back in the human race yet. We have a long way to go, but I am really proud of this team. I am proud of this effort, I’m proud of my assistant coaches.
“We had to weather some storms this past week. There weren’t just storms out east, there were storms here, and I thought they weathered them. They competed — they just played four games in 10 days — and I thought we had incredible effort.”
The effort was evident on the defensive end most of the night as Maryland shot just 38.6 percent from the field, including 29.6 percent from 3-point range.
Melo Trimble scored 24 for Maryland (17-3, 6-2) while Robert Carter added 13 points. But the Terrapins got little from Diamond Stone and Rasheed Sulaimon, who were a combined 3-for-14 from the field.
Izzo credited Eron Harris for his defense on Trimble.
“I know (Trimble) got 24 points,” Izzo said. “I’m just telling you that Eron Harris, coming from the beginning of the year when he struggled to guard many people did an incredible, incredible job and didn’t let his offensive woes — he had four great looks in first half, but just couldn’t buy a shot — didn’t let those affect his game.”
Michigan State led, 35-29, at halftime. Maryland came out firing in the second half and went up 46-42 less than four minutes in, but Michigan State answered with an 8-0 run to pull back ahead, 50-46.
The Terrapins kept coming, however, and got a three at the end of the shot clock from Sulaimon and eventually tied the game at 53. But Michigan State answered with a 9-0 run to match its biggest lead of the game at 62-53 with 6:30 to play.
The runs continued, though, as Maryland scored the next six before Costello hit four straight free throws to give the Spartans a 66-59 lead with 4:08 left
Trimble took advantage of a long rebound and scored on a runner with 3:29 to play and Maryland got another stop heading into the final media timeout with 2:29 to play and the Spartans holding a 66-61 advantage. Jake Layman followed with two free throws to trim the margin to three before Harris hit a pair of free throws with 1:15 to play.
Stone pulled the Terps back within three with 52.2 to play after two free throws.
On Michigan State’s next possession, Alvin Ellis missed a 3-pointer from the corner but Costello went up in a crowd to grab an offensive rebound before getting the ball to Forbes, who iced the game at the free-throw line.
It was Michigan State’s second straight win over Maryland, which has lost two of its last four overall.
“I thought Michigan State was great tonight,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “The building was terrific. They played with energy and unbelievable effort.”
Michigan State now gets a couple of days off before playing Northwestern and Rutgers this week, a stretch it feels confident can lead to building some momentum.
“We got a big one like this and everybody feels good now and we have confidence,” Valentine said. “That was huge emotional win for us. I think we’re back.”