Thanksgiving Weekend Was Quite Tasty for Valentine, Spartans

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.

Spartans Soar Past Eagles

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.

Spartans Dismantle Golden Lions

If Tom Izzo was afraid his team would have a letdown after beating Kansas on Tuesday, his fears were quickly allayed.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff just had to get out of the way of the Spartan freight train in the first half. Before most spectators were in their seats, it was 21-4 MSU. It didn’t get any better for the Golden Lions after that. They put up a better fight in the second half, outscoring State at one point, but the talent level was just too much for them. The Spartans steamrolled their way to a 92-46 victory.

Ghiavonni Robinson was the only bright spot for Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He played out of his mind, putting up 24 points on 9-16 shooting. His teammates were of little help, combining for only 22 points on 8-31 shooting

Senior Bryn Forbes was keyed in early on, scoring eight of State’s first 10 points. It wasn’t until the 3:43 mark in the first half that Arkansas-Pine Bluff eclipsed his point total. The Spartan lead grew to as much as 32 in the first half.

Eron Harris connected on his first three-pointer of the season in the first half, snapping an 0-6 streak. He made 133 from downtown in his two seasons with West Virginia.

Spartan fans were elated when Marvin Clark Jr. checked into the game early in the second half for the first time this season. He missed both exhibition games and MSU’s first two contests with a foot injury. Clark was originally expected to return around Thanksgiving.

Denzel Valentine continued to prove why he is the most well-rounded player in the Big Ten, flirting with yet another triple-double. Although he struggled from the field, shooting 2-9, he created opportunities for his teammates and never played selfishly. His final line was seven points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

Speaking of unselfish basketball, the Spartans are sharing the rock better than nearly any team in the NCAA. They recorded an assist on 26 of 33 baskets (78.8 percent), almost exactly on par with their season pace. Eight players scored at least seven points for MSU.

Javon Bess turned in the best game of his young career. He looks to finally be settling in to the power forward role. He converted a few gorgeous and-one’s en route to a team-high 16 points. Frontcourt mate Matt Costello had an efficient night in the paint, scooping up 10 rebounds to accompany his 10 points. The Spartans as a team dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Golden Lions 45-14.

Valentine’s Historic Game Propels Spartans Over Jayhawks

What. A. Game.

For the first 30 minutes of this matchup with the No. 4 ranked Kansas Jayhawks, it appeared as though the Spartans were in for another November disappointment. Kansas stubbornly held a five-point lead for most of the game, pulling away anytime the Spartans got close.

Rock Chalk extended their lead to 11 with 9:34 remaining, the dagger within reach. But Sparty stormed out of a Tom Izzo timeout and ripped off a 15-3 run to take the lead with 4:53 left in the game. It was their first lead of the game since the score was 6-5.

Denzel Valentine either scored or assisted on all 15 points, en route to a historic triple-double. He became just the fourth Spartan to reach that status, joining Magic Johnson, Draymond Green and Charlie Bell.

It was a back-and-forth affair from then on, the Spartans and Jayhawks trading haymakers. Perry Ellis converted a layup to tie the game, Valentine responded with a jumper of his own 32 seconds later. Wayne Selden Jr. nailed a three-pointer to take the lead, Valentine took it right back 14 seconds later. Izzo talked about Valentine not being aggressive enough at times, and he must have received that message.

In order for the Spartans to win this game, they knew the freshmen would have to step up in a big way. And they did.

Matt McQuaid became the baby-faced assassin down the stretch, burying a contested three-pointer with under a minute to go. Then he made his presence known on the defensive end and swatted a Kansas shot away down low. Pandemonium in the paint ensued with a flurry of blocks and turnovers. Coach Izzo’s cardiologist was not very pleased.

The second freshman came up clutch for Michigan State, and that was Deyonta Davis. The big fella buried two free throws, just his third and fourth attempted of his career, to ice the game for the Spartans. They avenged an ugly 61-56 loss from last year at the hands of the Jayhawks.

Matt Costello’s post game was a thing of beauty. He had the jump hook working to perfection, but could not stay out of foul trouble. He finished with 10 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 30 seconds left. Fellow big man Davis struggled to score on the bulky frontline of Kansas, but nabbed eight rebounds to go along with two blocks.

One major area of concern for Michigan State is turnovers. They gave the ball away 16 times, compared to just six times for Kansas. The Spartans won’t be fortunate enough to win too many games with that turnover margin.

This win is a huge confidence boost for the Spartans, who looked disorganized and lacked chemistry at times during the two exhibition matches and the season opener. The non-conference gauntlet is not over though. MSU still has a potential matchup with No. 10/12 Arizona in the Wooden Legacy, then two home match-ups with Louisville and Florida.

This win could be the catalyst MSU needs to run the table going into conference play. It’s a daunting concept, but the Spartans have the pieces in place to make it happen.

Next game: Friday vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 7 p.m. at the Breslin Center.

Spartans Dominate Season Opener Over FAU

Hungry for some real basketball? Yeah, we were too.

The regular season kicked off on Friday night at the Breslin Center as Michigan State rolled over Florida Atlantic 82-55. MSU raced out to a 16-point lead just 10 minutes into the game and never looked back. FAU could only muster a paltry 25 percent shooting effort in the first half, thanks in large part to an inspired defensive showing by MSU. Coach Izzo made defense a point of emphasis in the two exhibition games.

“I thought it was decent,” Coach Izzo said of the Spartans’ defensive performance. “We did a great job of containing the dribble penetration early and then I thought we played the score.”

Denzel Valentine proved that his dominant preseason performances weren’t flukes. He once again flirted with a triple double, putting up 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Only three Spartans have recorded a triple double.

“Triple-doubles are not easy to come by,” said Izzo. “Three guys, 12 triple doubles. ‘Zel could’ve started out his senior year with one and the urgency early was what hurt him. I gonna have my man Draymond (Green) call him tonight and tell him the arguments we used to have on the bench.”

Valentine didn’t shy away from the criticism from Izzo, and he realized the great opportunity he narrowly missed.

“I had a couple of times at the beginning of the game where I could’ve got a couple rebounds and I passed them up,” said Valentine. “You sometimes don’t get second chance to do things. I think I learned a lesson tonight because I was an assist away and two rebounds away.”

Matt Costello sprinted out of the gates in the absence of his frontcourt mate Gavin Schilling. He was perfect from the charity stripe and 5-9 from the field for 15 points and added seven rebounds.

“He took shots, he’s been shooting the ball better, his jump hook is better,” said Izzo. “That would be a big help (to the offense).”

Deyonta Davis started his MSU career like a man on a mission. He gobbled up six rebounds in the first seven minutes of the game and fired up the crowd with two blocks in a span of three seconds. Davis got on the board for the first time in his career with a tip-in off a Costello missed free throw. The youngblood finished with 13 points and 11 boards. That rebounding total is second best in MSU history for a freshman debut.

“I was really pleased with Deyonta,” said Izzo. “I think he went harder, he played against a physical guy who was pretty good. His quickness to the ball I thought was off the charts. He’d miss a shot and be there for the tip-in.”

Fellow freshman Matt McQuaid converted a tough transition layup for his first career points.

“I kinda snuck it in there, I didn’t think it was gonna go in there for a second,” said McQuaid. “It’s kinda hard to think about it you gotta go on to the next play because it happens so fast.”

The Owls have some notable names on their coaching staff. Former Detroit Pistons main man Michael Curry is at the helm, and former Spartan great Eric Snow is an assistant coach.

Sharing is Caring

The Spartans continued their unselfish play from the exhibition season, assisting on 83 percent of their baskets. McQuaid was called on to run the point while Tum Tum Nairn sat on the bench, and he looked impressive considering he’s only a freshman and it’s not his natural position.

“We sat on the bench and we didn’t think we were moving it enough but we did get some penetration and kicks for some shots,” said Izzo. “When you get 25 assists on 30 baskets it’s hard to complain about that, even for me.”

No Schilling, No Problem

Schilling was held out of Friday night’s contest due to “turf toe.” He suffered the injury in MSU’s second exhibition game against Ferris State on Monday. Coach Izzo said his chances to play in Tuesday night’s Champions Classic matchup with the Kansas Jayhawks are “50-50 at best.”

Quote of the night: Izzo, after being told Derrick Nix was one of three freshmen to record a double double in their first career game: “I’m just trying to figure out what he got the double double in. Donuts and rebounds?”

Stat of the Night: Freshman Deyonta Davis is just the third Spartan freshman to record a double-double in his debut.

Valentine Shines as MSU Crushes Ferris State

The exhibition season finally came to a close on Monday as the Spartans dispatched Ferris State 93-57. The Bulldogs came into the game fresh off a GLIAC Tournament Championship last year and owned a No. 23 ranking in the Division II poll.

The Spartans struggled to find their shot early, specifically Eron Harris. The guard had a rough first showing against Northern Michigan and started slow in the first half. He made his first shot, a beautiful up-and-under layup to open the game, but couldn’t hit much from distance. He connected on his first three-pointer of the season late in the first half, snapping an 0-7 streak.

Ferris State cut the deficit to 12 in the second half, but that’s as close as they would get. Despite winning by almost 40 points, Coach Izzo was not happy with the overall effort level of his team.

“That’s part of the culture change I’m trying to do,” said Izzo. “Let’s make every game where we’re gonna play it and play the game, not the team. Today we failed a little bit.”

Deyonta Davis struggled early in his second career game, going scoreless in the first half and eventually fouling out in only six minutes on the court. Junior forward Gavin Schilling had an idea as to why he struggled so much.

“Just his positioning, and at the same time the refs were kinda picking on him because he’s a freshman, he’s new to the game,” said Schilling. “It kinda reminded me of my freshman year, but he’s gonna be good for us, especially later in the season.”

Speaking of Schilling, he posted one of his best games of his career. He stayed out of foul trouble and was extremely efficient with his limited playing time. He scored 12 points on perfect shooting from the field and nabbed five boards.

“He rebounded pretty well, he ran the court pretty well, he made a couple great moves down there,” said Izzo. “He’s playing better. He’s been one of the bright spots from Italy to now.”

The walking triple-double (a.k.a. Denzel Valentine) followed up his stellar first outing with an equally impressive second. He has not disappointed the writers at ESPN who ranked him the No. 3 best player in the country. He finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Apparently that kind of stat line is not enough to escape Izzo’s ire.

“He was ok today,” said Izzo. “I’m complaining about him and he had 15, seven and seven. But you know what? He should have that and more.”

Valentine was just as tough a critic as Izzo was, and expected more out of himself more than just what the box score reflected.

“Coach is 100 percent right,” said Valentine. “I didn’t play to my capabilities. I should’ve had way more than that. I should’ve had another triple double and probably scored more than that. He expects more out of me, to lead the team better.”

Matt McQuaid looked much more in control of the game than against NMU. He spent considerable time at the point and facilitated the offense well, picking up eight assists along with nine points off the bench.

“He can really shoot the ball,” said Izzo, “he just has to figure out when he’s open and when he’s not. And he can drive, you know, he’s a very good athlete and he understands the game, he understands angles.”

McQuaid figures to make an impact in the rotation if he keeps playing as unselfishly as he has in his first two games. The leadership on the MSU squad will be key in his development.

“I’m getting more comfortable every practice and every game, and it’s mostly because the upperclassmen are helping me out,” said McQuaid. “They’re always taking me in, giving me suggestions and giving me tips. Even during practice, Denzel will put his arm around me and he’ll tell me how to make it easier or better.”

Hero of the night: Denzel Valentine. He flirted with another triple-double and most likely would’ve achieved it had Izzo not pulled him from the game. He’s the most well-rounded player that Spartans have had since Draymond Green.

Quote of the night: Izzo, describing the defensive effort from Eron Harris: “It’s not Iowa’s girl’s basketball of 30 years ago, you gotta play both ends.”

Injury updates: Sophomore forward Marvin Clark Jr. has been held out of both exhibition games due to a foot injury. He said after the game the goal is to come back by Thanksgiving, when the Spartans will be in California for the Wooden Legacy Tournament.

Schilling was limited to just 13 minutes despite his solid play due to a toe injury. He said he hyperextended it when making a cut and will go for x-rays on Tuesday.

Spartans Cruise to Exhibition Victory

Ahh, basketball is finally back.

Michigan State took to the court for the first time this season, easily dispatching Northern Michigan 94-53 in exhibition action.

The scrappy Wildcats hung around for much of the first half, thanks in large part to eight Spartan turnovers. NMU also held the edge on the offensive glass and took advantage of MSU’s lack of size with certain lineups.

Coach Izzo said this was one of his best shooting teams in 21 years, and the players let that get into their heads early. They forced far too many three pointers, connecting on only 3-13 in the first half. They quickly improved in the second frame, going 8-15 from distance.

Freshman Deyonta Davis made an instant impact on the game on both sides of the court. He was a force on offense in the low post and a block machine on defense. He finished with 12 points, four rebounds and four blocks.

“He was blocking shots, playing with a little bit of emotion and excitement,” said Coach Izzo. “I don’t know where that came from but I’m gonna bottle it and use it.”

Fellow freshman Matt McQuaid also got significant playing time, mostly on the wing but occasionally running the point. He proved shooting wasn’t the only thing he could do as he facilitated the offense and made some very nice passes.

There was considerable lineup shuffling throughout the game, as is customary for the preseason. Coach Izzo played some small ball with Javon Bess at the power forward and Colby Wollenman at center, and other times he would have Davis and Gavin Schilling in the frontcourt. As for the point, Tum Tum Nairn had the lion share of time, whileDenzel Valentine, McQuaid and Eron Harris also split ball handling duties.

Schilling once again struggled with foul trouble. He picked up three in a span of about four minutes in the first half and earned his fourth early in the second half. Schilling has been plagued by fouls his entire career, and needs to fix the problem if he wants to take the next step in his game.

“Schilling can move his feet, he can do some things, he just sometimes clubs people,” said Izzo. “He would have been a good caveman guy, just kind of carries that club and goes around and clubs people.”

Harris struggled in his first game in a Spartan uniform, only scoring five points on 1-5 shooting.

“Eron hasn’t played in a year and a half,” said Izzo. “You get in front of people for the first time and there were scoring things lighting up in his eyes.”

It came as no surprise that Harris had a bit of rust after a long layoff, but he’s not worried at all.

“I’m happy to be playing,” said Harris. “I’m focusing on my defense in the film. My shot is gonna get going, You know, some days you’re not going to be on, but my shot is gonna get going so I’m not worried about that.”

Bryn Forbes proved without a shadow of a doubt he’s this team’s best shooter. He feasted on any space the opposing defender gave him, going 7-10 from deep for 23 points. The chemistry with his high school teammate Valentine was noticeable right away.

“Our chemistry is great on the court,” said Valentine. “I know where he’s gonna be, I know where he likes the ball. Every time I pass him the ball I say ‘shoot’ I don’t care, just shoot the ball.”

Hero of the night: This was a tough one to give out, but it has to go to Denzel Valentine. He posted a “quiet” triple double, with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He is the team’s leading returning scorer, rebounder and assist man, so this comes as no surprise to Spartan fans.

Next game: Monday November 9 against Ferris State. Tip is at 7 p.m. at the Breslin Center and will be the last exhibition game of the year.