Ah, it’s good to be on top.

The Spartans played their first game as the top-ranked team in the nation since this time two seasons ago. Maryland-Eastern Shore was the sacrificial lamb for Wednesday’s contest, entering the game with a 1-7 record. They would leave the Breslin Center with a 1-8 record, falling to MSU 78-35.

State went on a 22-4 run midway through the first half, sparked by eight straight points from Denzel Valentine. The Hawks ended the half on a woeful 2-16 shooting streak. The Spartans weren’t much better however. Their half ended with a scoring drought of over five minutes, yet they still controlled a 33-16 edge. Sharing the ball was a priority, as MSU assisted on all but two buckets in the entire game. This comes as no surprise, considering State leads the nation in assists.

UMES was simply outplayed in every major category, and the worst was yet to come. The Spartans constantly extended their lead through the entire second half, thanks in large part to 25 percent shooting from the Hawks in the frame.

One major difference between the two squads was the strength of the bench. MSU’s bench not only outscored the Hawks bench, it outscored their entire team 40-35. Nine Spartans scored at least four points, compared to just four Hawks.

“We got the deepest bench in America right now,” said Marvin Clark Jr. “With the rotation we got right now, it’s gonna wear teams down and that’ll help us in the long run.”

Clark turned in his second solid game in a row, picking up nine points and three boards. The sophomore missed the first two games of the season due to a foot injury and had played more than six minutes in a game only three times.

Another player who found his shot was Eron Harris. He put up 12 points, his best in a Spartan uniform. But what was most encouraging was his perfect shooting from beyond the arc. In his last three games, Harris was only shooting 33 percent from the field and 20 percent from deep.

“I’ve been trying to get up a lot more shots off the court,” said Harris. “I told myself I need to start shooting and hitting my shots. Today I just felt in the rhythm, feeling more confident. I’ve been preparing better before the game. My ability on defense is also getting me ready to play better on offense.”

Player of the Year frontrunner Valentine notched his fourth double-double of the season in the victory, picking up 11 points and 10 rebounds to go along with six dimes. Solid numbers considering he was feeling under the weather.

“He didn’t play with the same vigor that he plays with,” said Izzo. “He still played good, he’s just a little sick. Last night and during the pregame walkthrough today, I could really notice it.

The win over the Hawks moves the Spartans to 10-0, which ties the program’s second-best start ever. Valentine, the undisputed leader of the team, won’t let that No. 1 ranking get to the heads of any players.

“It’s tough because there are a lot of distractions but we need to be a team that can handle distractions when there are other things that are going on,” said Valentine. “I think this will be a lesson for us and will teach us not to let distractions hurt us.”

As usual, Coach Izzo found something to get upset about, even in a 43-point victory. Tonight, it was offensive rebounding.

“We’re just not sending the guys to the boards,” said Izzo. “As I think about our reunion team coming in, hell they had more offensive rebounds getting dressed than our guys get in the game.”

MSU’s next game is on Saturday, when the Florida Gators will come to town. The 2000 National Champion team will be honored during the game. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Originally posted: http://impact89fm.org/sports/harris-breaks-out-of-slump-in-hawk-smackdown/

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