Niyo: Forbes' shooting eye, hustle lift Spartans

John Niyo
The Detroit News
Michigan State guard Bryn Forbes (5) shoots a 3-pointer in the first half. Forbes started the game 6-for-6 on 3s and finished with seven in the first half alone.

Ann Arbor — Bryn Forbes was open. Almost too open.

And for the first time all afternoon — the only time, really — he hesitated.

“Yeah, I took an extra step,” Michigan State’s senior guard said, smiling, as recalled the moment when Saturday’s rivalry game at Crisler Center turned into a laugher. “And I was just like, ‘Yeah, I really am this open.”

So he let another 3-point shot fly, watched it splash through the net — his fourth in four tries — and turned to toward the visitors’ bench with an unmistakable look. Forbes already had 12 points in 12 minutes — one more than the entire Michigan team at that point — and the Spartans’ early lead had grown to 18.

“I just was in a zone,” said Forbes, who’d go on to hit eight of 10 three-pointers — seven in the first half alone — and finish with a game-high 29 points in an 89-73 rout of Michigan. “I wasn’t really thinking at all. The ball’s just going in. And it felt good.”

Again and again, it went in. It didn’t seem to matter what Michigan did defensively — man-to-man, zone — because the Wolverines aren’t doing anything well with their backs to the basket these days. And these Spartans are a team well-suited to make them pay, just as Indiana had been earlier in the week.

This was a far cry from a couple weeks ago, when Forbes sat dejectedly in front of his locker after a dismal performance at home against Nebraska, a loss that extended Michigan State’s midseason skid to three games.

“We got Bryn Forbes shot after shot after shot,” Izzo lamented that night. “The poor kid just didn’t make ’em.”

Getting scrappy

Saturday, it was an embarrassment of riches for Forbes and the Spartans, who shot an obscene percentage from the field, both from inside (64 percent) and outside (63.6 percent) the arc. That’s three consecutive games they’ve shot the lights out from deep (47-of-80, 58.8 percent) in runaway victories, a showing impressive enough that even coach Tom Izzo is learning to live with it.

“I’m worried a little bit about becoming a 3-point shooting team — I don’t want that,” Izzo said.

But his team showed enough inside-out strength in the second half to make him happy, and as he readily admits, “When you make shots, everything changes.”

For a team, and certainly for a player like Forbes, who has responded since that 1-for-8 night against Nebraska with some red-hot shooting — 21 3-pointers in four games — and some more spirited play.

After Forbes went diving on the floor battling Michigan’s Derrick Walton for a loose ball Saturday, he was rewarded with a high-five from his coach when he got to the huddle.

“He got on the floor a couple times today,” Izzo joked, “and that was illegal when I got him.”

Forbes, the Lansing native who transferred back from Cleveland State last season, will never be mistaken for a defensive stopper, but he’s getting better at it.

“He got a little stronger, he got a lot tougher,” Izzo agreed. “And his mentality now is, I gotta guard and I gotta shoot.”

Rare day

That last part comes easy, though. And right now, he’s shooting 50.3 percent (75-of-149) from beyond the arc, putting Forbes within reach of Michigan State’s single-season accuracy mark (Kirk Manns shot 50.7 percent in 1988-89) while putting opposing defenses in a bind.

Saturday, Forbes finished three points shy of his career high of 32, set in that win over Oakland at The Palace in December. He was one shy of the Crisler Center record for 3-pointers, set by Colorado State’s Aki Palmer in January 2000.

Asked afterward if he knew about that last mark, Forbes shook his head.

“No, I didn’t,” he said. “I would’ve had it, too, if they didn’t call that foul.”

That was the whistle for an illegal screen against Colby Wollenman with 4:46 left, just as Forbes drilled another 3-pointer from the corner in front of the MSU bench.

“But it’s no big deal,” Forbes said. “We got the win.”

For the seniors, that meant everything Saturday in the only scheduled meeting with their in-state rivals. Senior center Matt Costello, who is playing the best basketball of his career, was so emotional before the game he was getting razzed by his teammates about it.

When the arena went dark for Michigan’s player introductions, Costello said, “I was just balling like a little baby.”

Once the game started, though, it was a barrel of laughs for the Spartans, who swept Michigan last season and, barring a Big Ten tournament rematch, won’t have to endure a loss to their rivals again this winter, either.

“It’s something big,” Forbes said. “But this is what you want. And for us, I think it’s just hard work paying off now.”