East Lansing — On a day when Denzel Valentine stole the show and fellow senior Matt Costello scored a career high, it would be easy to say Michigan State goes as its star players go.
That’s true for most games, and likely was again in Sunday’s 88-69 victory over Indiana as Valentine scored 30 and Costello 22.
But Michigan State has depth, which has been tested at various times this season and was again on Sunday. And that depth played a key role in the victory.
“We made some substitutions and some of those guys came in hungry, I guess,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That’s where everybody says we have depth, and yeah, we have depth. Today our depth is probably what won us the game.’ Those two guys played unbelievable, but it was our depth.”
And it was from a couple of guys who have been getting far from consistent minutes.
Sophomore Marvin Clark was called on early after redshirt freshman Kenny Goins went down with a knee injury. Clark played 22 minutes and grabbed four rebounds while scoring four points late.
Junior Alvin Ellis III, who had big moments in the overtime loss at Purdue on Tuesday, played 11 minutes and hit a 3-pointer in Michigan State’s decisive run on Sunday.
Both players have had their share of ups and downs — Clark trying to overcome an injury that kept him out of the first two games this year and Ellis fighting inconsistent play.
“There’s no kidding anybody here, he was in the ultimate doghouse for two years,” Izzo said of Ellis. “This year, he said he was going to make a different approach. There were games we didn’t play him in and he kept getting better and better, his shooting’s getting better. We put him on the scout team, for a junior that’s not the norm always, especially for a scholarship player. He wanted to go on it to get better, he’s done a heck of a job at that, and he’s kind of working himself back into the human race, and I’m proud of him for that.
“That’s the ultimate in a person, is, if you’re not playing good enough or not doing what you’re supposed to do and then all of a sudden you can turn it around, those are the kind of guys you love in the end, because he’s really made a concerted effort to put more into basketball, basketball’s giving something back to him.”
Ellis said he’s heard the whispers of him transferring, but it’s not something he’s entertained.
“I was in the doghouse the last two years and it’s been tough getting out,” Ellis said. “But I kept working and kept staying focused and I think I’m starting to get out of the doghouse.”
Clark went from a vital part of Michigan State’s Final Four run last season to an afterthought at times this season. But extra film work the past few weeks had him prepared for his chance on Sunday.
“Maybe this will jump start him a little bit,” Izzo said.
Goins injures knee
It wasn’t all good news for Michigan State on Sunday as Goins suffered a knee injury with 10:36 to play in the first half and never came back.
Goins was on crutches after the game, but Izzo was unsure of a prognosis.
“I heard they were a little worried about his meniscus,” Izzo said. “It’s just a shame because he has been playing good. I don’t know. Go a week and a half without an injury is probably not normal.”
Goins entered the game averaging 10.8 minutes a game and had nine rebounds Tuesday against Purdue.
“He brings so much for us as far as rebounding and defense,” Costello said of Goins. “He’s smart, he does his job. It hurts us if he’s out and I’m praying to God he’s not.”
‘Tum Tum’ returns
Sunday marked the first time sophomore guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. played since Jan. 14 in a loss to Iowa. He recorded only two minutes, but it was the first step in Nairn returning from plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
It was a quick shift, and Izzo warned there likely won’t be extended minutes coming anytime soon.
“It’s still he probably won’t practice (today) or the next day or very little,” Izzo said.
“We’re hoping we can get back to how it was in December — painful, play, not practice as much, but still play. It’s not gonna be where he’s practicing every day and playing, that’s not gonna happen. We can get something out of him, 10 minutes a game, and he’s willing to do that for us.”