Despite victory, Spartans ‘bigs’ upset Izzo

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Javon Bess is fouled by Rutgers' Ibrahima Diallo during the second half.

Piscataway, N.J. —– The numbers say Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the country.

But coach Tom Izzo thinks it has more to do with other teams’ inability to hit the glass as much as it does with the Spartans.

“I think there are some bad rebounding teams in the country,” Izzo said this week. “I say that because in those (past) years we were plus-15 (in rebound margin). The last four games we’re plus-4 up until (Sunday’s win over Penn State). I don’t think we dominate.”

In Wednesday’s 97-66 victory over Rutgers, Michigan State outrebounded the Scarlet Knights, 50-24. However, Izzo wasn’t exactly elated.

“Our bigs, again,” Izzo said. “I’ll just say our bigs and you can figure out who they are since no one likes me calling them out. Our bigs did not do what they needed to do.”

Matt Costello finished with 15 rebounds, which matched a career high, but Deyonta Davis had only five and Gavin Schilling four.

“We’ve got one guy batting balls on rebounds,” Izzo said. “Two guys didn’t do their job.”

It hasn’t been an issue much of the season as No. 2 Michigan State entered the game with a +11.5 rebound per game advantage over its opponents, a number that drops to +9.1 in Big Ten play.

It’s an impressive number, but for a program that has built itself on defense and rebounding, Izzo is still looking for more.

“We don’t have a dominating wing guy that rebounds,” Izzo said. “I think we’ve done it by committee. We’ve done it by group and that’s kinda good. But we don’t seem like that team that’s dominating anybody.”

Izzo believes No. 2 Spartans have to reach higher

Michigan State averages 42.1 rebounds a game with Costello grabbing 8.2 a game and Denzel Valentine 7.6.

Much of Izzo’s consternation could be because he is struggling to find things his team needs to work on entering the final week of the season.

The Spartans have won eight of their last nine games and might be playing better than when they opened the season with 13 consecutive victories.

However, he also understands how well his team is playing overall.

Valentine ‘struggles’

It’s not often a player nearly records a triple-double and talks about struggling. But that’s the position Valentine is in these days.

Valentine is the favorite to win Big Ten player of the year honors, and in the win over Rutgers he had14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. However, he was 6-for-17 from the field and had five turnovers.

“He struggled and he rarely struggles,” Izzo said. “He missed a couple of shots and for the first time in a long time, he let his offense dictate his defense. The poor kid is allowed to have one bad game, I guess. … But he is the least of my worries.”

Valentine admitted he got frustrated in the first half.

“Yeah, I’m usually not like that,” Valentine said. “I don’t know why I let that affect me this game. I’ve got to learn from it and move on.”

It wasn’t all bad for Valentine. He had eight assists to give him 587 for his career and move him past Drew Neitzel for fourth all-time at MSU. He is behind third-place Eric Snow, who has 599. Valentine also grabbed eight rebounds to give him 820, good for 10th all-time.

Costello nears record

Costello recorded one block to give him 141 for his career. He is now just one shy from tying Branden Dawson as the career leader with 142.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau