Wojo: Izzo grumbles, but all Spartans do is win
Indianapolis — The Spartans aren’t settling for anything now. They want a Big Ten tournament title, they want a No. 1 seed, they want it all. And they’re certainly capable of winning it all.
The price? Imperfections are scrubbed and scrutinized, even in victory. Michigan State just pulled off a thrilling win against talented Maryland to reach the conference tournament title game, and Tom Izzo wasn’t thrilled. The Spartans showed a few cracks late in their 64-61 victory Saturday, and this season has always been about the big picture, the biggest picture possible.
Michigan State slapped an absolutely withering defense on Maryland, holding the Terps to exactly one field goal in the final 10-and-a-half minutes. The Spartans shut down Melo Trimble and stuffed Jake Layman. They held the high-scoring Terps to 33-percent shooting.
Solid. Impressive. But what about those turnovers and the frantic finish?
“Those things aren’t going to be tolerated here, OK?” Izzo said. “I’ve got some things I’m not gonna tolerate with myself, too. Remember, this is the Big Ten tournament, and there’s still another tournament to play. We gotta be learning each and every day what we did right and wrong. We beat a damn good team, and we did a lot of things to earn the win. But the way we finished? I thought it was kind of sloppy.”
The Spartans finished by missing some shots and throwing the ball away. They committed three turnovers in the final 2:32, and 13 for the game. Denzel Valentine missed a late free throw, then made a free throw he was supposed to miss.
Can’t make for missing
And yet this looked like perfect imperfection, two hungry, feisty teams battling like it was the big tournament. Michigan State faces Purdue for the championship Sunday at 3, and then will learn its path in the NCAA Tournament bracket. If the Spartans beat the Boilermakers, they’re certainly a No. 1 seed, although that’s not something they’re worried about.
In some ways, this was the ideal outcome for Michigan State, which hadn’t won a game by fewer than 12 points since late January. In that span, the Spartans lost three one-point games, although that was before Valentine turned into the best player in the country.
So you might understand why Izzo was a bit irritated by the Spartans’ crunch-time sloppiness. I’m guessing he’ll feel a lot better when he reviews his team’s manic defense and clutch plays to pull it out. After Valentine missed the front of a one-and-one with 10 seconds left, Trimble raced downcourt seeking the winner, and headed straight to the basket.
Eron Harris hawked him on one side and Deyonta Davis challenged him at the rim, and suddenly Melo wasn’t so mellow. He came up way short, and Valentine grabbed the rebound and was fouled with a second left. Instructed to make one and miss the other, Valentine made both. It didn’t matter, except that everything matters this time of year.
“When you’re playing for something, you make some mistakes,” Izzo said. “But I’m not gonna brush them under the table. You don’t get to learn from mistakes if you don’t make them, but if you don’t address the ones you make, you don’t learn either. So yeah, I’m a little frustrated right now, because I don’t think we played as intelligently as we needed to. I’m also very proud of them, because I thought in a lot of ways we played well enough to win by maybe eight or 10.”
Once again, positives were extracted from the negatives. Bryn Forbes was a rare 0-for-4 on 3-pointers, so the Spartans were forced to grind it out. Davis was a defensive presence with five rebounds and two blocks, including an incredible swat of a shot by Diamond Stone with 29 seconds left. The Terps screamed for a goaltending call that would’ve put them up 61-60 and it was close, but denied.
“We had a little bit of adversity, but hey, that’s what basketball is — runs,” said Valentine, who posted his standard 18 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. “Maryland happened to make their run late. We just had to calm down and stay composed. We’ve been in these type of games before.”
Not so often this season, although the Spartans can expect these type of games the rest of the way, starting with the big, defensive-minded Boilermakers. Purdue will provide a battle, and don’t kid yourself, this tournament title means a lot to both teams. In their only meeting this season, Purdue won at home, 82-81 in overtime.
“This is a championship game, and it’s much more than getting revenge on Purdue,” Valentine said. “No disrespect to them, but we have bigger goals and aspirations.”
Anything less, as we know, isn’t tolerated.