The grind is officially here.
The newly-minted No. 3 ranked Michigan State tipped off their second of five games in nine days, including a trip to California. After toppling Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Friday, MSU picked up where they left off on Monday. Eastern Michigan was no match for Sparty’s high-octane offense falling 89-65.
The Spartans found themselves in a bit of a slugfest early on. The Eagles from Eastern Michigan hung tough in the first half, keeping within four points. Michigan State then put together a 15-4 run to pull away. But MSU struggled from the field, hitting only 35 percent of their shots in the first half.
“We just need to come out with a better start,” said Denzel Valentine. “That slow start can’t happen against some good teams that we’re going to play. The next thing you know, we’ll be down 20 or something if we were playing away or on the road.”
Javon Bess led the way for State in the first half, carrying on his hot streak. He was the leading scorer in MSU’s blowout victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Friday with 16 points. Bess attacked the basket, drawing fouls left and right. He connected on 7 of 10 from the charity stripe and finished with 13 points.
“Personally I’m still getting my feel back since I had those two surgeries last year but I’m feeling good and as a team I think we’re feeling good,” said Bess.
Even Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy had praise for the sophomore.
“I give Javon a lot of credit tonight,” said Murphy. “He excelled against our zone and he made it tough and made some second chance opportunities.”
The threes were raining down for the Spartans in the second half as Michigan State finally started to pull away. Back to back transition buckets by Matt McQuaid and Colby Wollenman got the Breslin rocking and effectively iced the game. The lead widened to 64-36 with 12 minutes left and there was no looking back.
The Eagles were just as cold as the weather outside the stadium, hitting just 5-19 from downtown. Ty Toney was a bright spot for his Eagles as he tore apart the Michigan State defense, putting up a team-best 18 points.
Reigning CBSSports player of the week Valentine flirted with yet another triple-double. He was held out of the contest for much of the late second half, so he “only” totaled 12 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. With numbers like that in a “disappointing” game, he could be headed for many more player of the week honors in the near future.
“You know, we don’t even talk about Denzel because he just had nine rebounds, 12 points, seven assists, two turnovers,” said Izzo. “Just a ho-hum day for him, and I didn’t think we did a good job of getting him the ball. We got to make sure he gets some shots.”
Freshman Deyonta Davis followed up a solid outing on Friday with an even more impressive game against the Eagles. He looked more aggressive and even drew a technical foul after a monstrous dunk. Davis finished with 16 points and five boards. But that technical foul really irked Izzo on the sideline.
“That’s inexcusable, he’s done it enough times,” said Izzo of the technical foul. “Yeah, I can appreciate the emotion, have emotion to our fans, have emotion to our players, don’t have emotion to another player on another team. That’s inexcusable.”
Former Spartan legend Magic Johnson made an appearance at the Breslin Center on Monday night. He visited with the team after the game and gave more than just the nominal “rah-rah” speech.
“The guy is amazing,” said Izzo. “He watches every game from out there and the only reason I know that is he can talk about every player and everything. He felt that the dribble penetration in the first half was not very good, and he felt that our bigs should’ve dominated in there just because of bulk alone and we didn’t. And then finishing the game, he let Denzel know that’s captain job to make sure the game gets finished.”
Michigan State will now head out to sunny California, where they will battle it out in the Wooden Legacy. The Spartans face Boston College in the first round on Thanksgiving day, then face the winner of Boise State vs UC Irvine. If the Spartans win both games, they could potentially matchup with No. 11 Arizona on Sunday.
Hero of the Night: This one is a bit of an upset, but the award has to go to Eron Harris. The transfer guard has been grinding through the first few games trying to find his shot, and now things are starting to click. He finished with 10 points on perfect 2-2 shooting from three and even nabbed seven rebounds. Izzo commented after the game that he’s “starting to look like the guy we all know he is.” The Spartans will need all the help they can get in this grueling stretch of the schedule.
Stat of the Night: 2-14, 1-8. That was the shooting line for Eastern’s Willie Mangum from the field and three, respectively. Is that bad? Well, it’s certainly not good.