Improved defense keeps Forbes on the court

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Bryn Forbes helps cut down the net after Michigan State defeated Purdue in the Big Ten championship game.

East Lansing — Entering last weekend’s Big Ten tournament, there was one clear conclusion to draw about Michigan State — when Bryn Forbes struggles, so do the Spartans.

In the five regular-season losses, Michigan State’s senior was a combined 4-for-25 from 3-point range, an eye-opening number for the player who finished as the nation’s top 3-point shooter.

But after Michigan State captured its second conference tournament title in three years by beating Ohio State, Maryland and Purdue, it’s clear Forbes is bringing plenty of value outside of his shooting.

“Last week we were all talking about what happens if Bryn doesn’t shoot well or I was bringing up to you that I don’t want to be a team that’s living by the three and dying by the three,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Still, our defense and rebounding has to be a staple.

“I think it was a great example that he didn’t shoot well, we didn’t shoot necessarily really well, and we still found a way to beat quality teams.”

While the team was shooting OK, it was Forbes who found himself in a slump. After making a Big Ten record 11 3-pointers in a victory at Rutgers, the guard is 5-for-23 the last four games.

As Izzo pointed out, however, Michigan State is still winning and doing so with Forbes on the court. Instead of pulling a cold shooter, Izzo is riding Forbes.

“I know we’ll shoot the ball, not at the level we have in some games,” Izzo said. “What’s encouraging is when we didn’t, I kept his butt still on the court cause he’s grown enough to defend and make us better that way.”

It’s a long way from a year ago when Forbes arrived after transferring from Cleveland State, where the Lansing native had been a prolific scorer his first two years.

His defense last season was lacking, and if the shots weren’t falling, Forbes was sitting. So he spent the offseason getting stronger, working on his quickness and setting out to prove he belonged on the floor, making shots or not.

“I think changing my body did a lot for me that way, especially on the defensive end,” Forbes said Tuesday. “I can guard bigger guys, I can do different things.

“I think that helped me a lot. But no, I don’t think I would have (been on the floor last year).”

Forbes’ value at both ends has been evident all season, but it was especially clear the final two games of the Big Ten tournament.

As he was in the midst of shooting 1-for-10 from long range, Forbes played 35 minutes against Maryland and 30 against Purdue.

“I think a lot of it is that I have matured as a person,” Forbes said. “(Shooting) is not the only thing I can do and being able to defend now and affect the game not just by my best talent, it feels good to be able to have some type of impact on the game in various ways.”

That doesn’t mean Michigan State is expecting any less from Forbes on offense as it prepares to face Middle Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis on Friday.

He’s still shooting 48.4 percent from 3-point range, second in the nation, and even a couple misses aren’t going to shake his confidence.

“There are games I’ve missed two or three and then go off for eight,” Forbes said. “But I don’t know, it’s just part of it, there’s ups and downs. The one thing that can stay constant with, I feel like, is my effort. Even if make defensive mistakes, if I’m all in and it happens.

“Obviously it’s frustrating when you don’t see (a shot) that you think is good every time go in. It’s frustrating, but at the other end I’m getting a stop and doing what I got to do.”