Clark's emergence adds fuel to MSU's title run

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State's Marvin Clark Jr., left, fouls Ohio State's Trevor Thompson during the second half.

Columbus, Ohio — Midway through the first half on Tuesday night, Marvin Clark took a pass from Alvin Ellis and stepped confidently into a 3-pointer from the wing.

It was a shot Clark hit often last season as a freshman, helping Michigan State reach the Final Four. But following off-season foot surgery, things have been slow to return for Clark. Entering No. 6 Michigan State’s matchup with Ohio State, Clark had made just four 3-pointers all season, his last coming on Jan. 10 at Penn State.

And it didn’t help that playing time was hard to come by. Three times in Big Ten play, Clark didn’t play a single minute, and most nights, he was an afterthought in the rotation.

But when Kenny Goins went down with a knee injury against Indiana a little less than two weeks ago, the Spartans turned to Clark and slowly, he’s started to remind everyone of why he was such a vital part of last season’s tournament run.

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Which led to that 3-pointer from the wing on Tuesday. The mechanics looked the same as the ball traveled toward the hoop and promptly banged off the back of the rim. Instead of bounce away, however, the ball trickled into the basket.

“When I made that first one,” Clark said, shrugging his shoulders and smiling, “I’ll take it.”

And with a minute left in the half, Clark buried another 3-pointer, this one hitting nothing but net.

“The good thing about it is the second one I shot felt the same exact way,” Clark explained. “So, I didn’t change anything to it. I shot it the same exact way and took my time.”

Those were the only points Clark scored in the 81-62 victory over Ohio State, but it’s the possibilities that have him and the Spartans excited. The idea that Clark could become the factor he was last season could add another dimension to a team that expects to get back to the Final Four.

And getting some confidence back with just three games left in the regular season could be vital to Clark and the Spartans.

“Yeah, Marv played pretty well,” coach Tom Izzo said. “I think it’ll help him a lot. I really do. We wanted to play (Javon Bess) in the first half, too, because he had a helluva week of practice, a helluva week. And he did OK.”

Clark and Bess are the best options to see significant time with Goins out, but Clark has clearly taken a step over the last three games, and he hopes Tuesday’s performance is a sign of things to come.

“This game was a prime example, like the Purdue game when coach told me they needed me to play because I can space the floor. In this game, the first half I had two threes and the second half we got tremendous spacing for guys coming off screens and for (Denzel Valentine) driving to the basket. That’s a little thing I can do to help the team.”

And if that leads to Clark getting closer to the player that was 21-for-62 from 3-point range last season and scored in double-figures seven times, then Michigan State (23-5, 10-5 Big Ten) becomes even tougher to beat.

But it’s not just the scoring. Clark played 19 minutes against Ohio State and grabbed six rebounds while recording. Against Indiana, he played 22 minutes and grabbed four rebounds. In both games he defended well and the confidence has grown in a relatively short time.

“Yeah, I’ve been feeling like myself the past two games as far as playing hard and making little plays to help us win,” Clark said. “And the shot falling has definitely got me feeling like last year.”