Feast Week was quite tasty for Denzel Valentine and the Spartans.
Michigan State captured the DirecTV Wooden Legacy in California this weekend, beating Boston College, Boise State and Providence. Many experts predicted highly-ranked (No. 11) Arizona to be the finals matchup with MSU, but Player of the Year candidate Kris Dunn and his Friars pulled off the upset on Friday night.
Thanksgiving night saw MSU feasting on Eagle rather than turkey, as Tom Izzo captured the 500th win of his career. Valentine absolutely dominated the game in every way. He controlled the offense, facilitating for his teammates and hitting big shots. By the end of the first half, a triple-double was inevitable.
Early in the second half, with State already up 53-38, Valentine turned on the jets. After finishing off an and-one, the Spartans went on a 17-4 run, fueled by three Valentine three-pointers and a dunk to blow the doors off. Sparty never looked back and won 99-68.
The following night, MSU had a date with Boise State. The pesky Broncos survived every kind of run the Spartans went on, no matter how crushing it seemed to be.
Boise took a seven-point edge with 6:30 left in the first and the Spartans were reeling. They lost the hot shooting touch from the night before, but MSU would not go down without a fight. A 17-4 run ensued, putting the Spartans back on top at the half.
As much as the Spartans stepped on the gas pedal in the first game to put the score out of reach, they did the exact opposite against the Broncos. No matter what they did, Boise State clawed its way back. The lead was slashed to one just six minutes into the second half.
Valentine once again put the team on his back, scoring 15 straight Spartan points to give MSU a commanding lead. After that outburst, the Broncos were kept at an arm’s distance away, never cutting the lead to less than six. State advanced to the title game with a 77-67 win.
A much-improved Providence team proved to be the toughest matchup of the tournament. The Friars had just knocked off Arizona and were hungry for national attention. All eyes were on Valentine and Dunn.
For the first time in the Wooden Legacy, Valentine looked human. He picked up two quick fouls within five minutes, forcing Izzo to sit him on the bench for most of the first half. The two squads traded blows through the first half, neither team able to pull away. A last-second Deyonta Davis slam gave MSU a two-point advantage at the half.
Providence held the lead for most of the second half, warding off any Spartan runs with buckets of their own. Ben Bentil dominated the post for the Friars, putting up 20 points and seven rebounds. But there was no question the team ran through Dunn. He led the Friars in scoring, but dealt with foul trouble, a saving grace for Michigan State.
Down by four with six minutes left, MSU finally made something happen. They ripped off 11 straight points, capped off by yet another clutch three-pointer from Matt McQuaid and a driving layup by Eron Harris. Free throws iced the game for State, surprisingly, and they captured the Wooden Legacy with a 77-64 victory.
Valentine was named MVP of the tournament, to no one’s surprise. He averaged 26 points, 8.7 rebounds and seven assists per game while shooting 53.3 percent from the field and 57 percent from long range. He now leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals and ranks second in the nation in assists.
A surprise performer from the weekend was Tum Tum Nairn. The guard had been struggling mightily from the field this season, but turned it on in Cali. He dropped 13 points and eight dimes in the opener against Boston College. He had not scored double digits in his entire career until Thursday. He also had not dished out that many assists since an overtime loss to Minnesota last February.
Another encouraging sign from Nairn was his outside shooting, which had been virtually nonexistent up until this point. He never took more than two three-pointers in a game in his entire career until knocking down 2-4 against BC. He shot 1-4 from distance against Boise State, but even just his willingness to shoot long-range was something to get excited about.
Next up for MSU is a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight matchup with Louisville at the Breslin Center on Wednesday. The game is part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and tip-off is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.