Valentine sweet, Spartans crush Hoosiers
East Lansing – It seems fitting that Feb. 14 should be Denzel Valentine’s day, and for the second straight year, he was all everything Michigan State needed.
A year after lifting the Spartans with a game-winning 3-pointer to beat Ohio State, the Michigan State senior showed why he is one of the favorites to be the Big Ten Player of the Year, leading No. 8 Michigan State to an 88-69 victory over Indiana.
Valentine scored 30 points, handed out a career-high 13 assists and grabbed five rebounds for the Spartans (21-5, 8-5 Big Ten), who shook off Tuesday’s one-point loss at Purdue and a slow start on Sunday to get back in the win column. It knocked Indiana (20-6, 10-3) out of a tie for first place in the Big Ten, just one game after the Hoosiers had beaten Iowa.
“The game-winning shot was probably a little better,” Valentine admitted. “But I’m glad it didn’t get down to that. We didn’t need that. (The game-winner) was the best, the better ending for me. It always is with a highlight ending, but getting a more solid and complete win by 20 is good.”
It didn’t get down to that sort of drama because Valentine was outstanding, and he had help.
Fellow senior Matt Costello finished with a career-high 22 points on 10-for-12 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds, and Bryn Forbes added 14 points for the Spartans. Michigan State also got key minutes from Alvin Ellis III and Marvin Clark, who came in after Kenny Goins injured his knee.
“We needed the other guys,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Costello did step up and Forbes struggled for a while and then he stepped up. So our three seniors were the difference in the game and you kind of hope that’s the way it’s supposed to be, especially this year when it seems like seniors have been doing a lot more for a lot of teams.”
Few were doing much early as Indiana went on a 15-2 run midway through the first half to open a 33-23 lead.
But that’s when things started to turn.
“Just relax,” Valentine said of the team’s mindset during the early struggles. “We’ve been in this position a lot. We were down 18 on the road against Purdue, so we’ve been through this before. I calmed the team down and we just started playing how we play.”
Indiana’s Robert Johnson hit a 3-pointer with 3:56 to play in the first half to put the Hoosiers up, 40-32, but it was all Michigan State from that point. Indiana did not score again in the first half as the Spartans went into the break, up 41-40.
A 23-4 run early in the second half came next as Michigan State started to run away. The lead eventually expanded to 22 points late in the half as the Hoosiers couldn’t mount a comeback as Valentine scored 15 in the second half.
“We didn't put enough pressure on him,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “We didn't make him uncomfortable.”
The result was Michigan State getting back on track after a tough loss and beating a team that came in riding a wave of confidence.
“It was so important,” Costello said. “We talked this week about Indiana playing for first place in the Big Ten and we’ve got a lot of stuff we’re playing for. The win record (for a class), a good seed in the Big Ten tournament and missing the first two days, playing for a good seed in the NCAA Tournament. We have a lot to play for still and we needed to come out and play well.”
The offense was impressive, but after the first 15 minutes, it was the defense that came to life.
The Spartans held Indiana guard to just nine points on 3-for-10 shooting and gave up just 29 points in the second half.
Max Bielfeldt scored 15 points to lead Indiana while Johnson and Collin Hartman added 11 points each and Thomas Bryant scored 10.
“I don’t know if we did a good job on (Ferrell) or if he just isn’t as involved when he misses a couple of free throws,” Izzo said. “Maybe it just wasn’t his day and we’ve been through that with our players too.
“We beat a very good team today. The way they played the first half we didn’t guard, and they did. They went through a stretch where they didn’t guard and we did. They scored 40 points in the first 15 minutes of the game and then we did an unbelievable job because then they got the next 29 in the next 25 minutes. I just thought our defense made our offense go.”