Michigan State Big Men Lead Way for Surging Spartans In Blow Out Of Penn State

No. 6 Michigan State (24-5 OVR, 11-5 B1G) cruised to a 88-57 win over Penn State (15-14, 6-10) on Sunday at the Breslin Center.

It was the second to last day before March. It was a 56-degree day in East Lansing – it felt like tournament time, and the Spartans played like it.

MSU coach Tom Izzo, in an uncharacteristically good mood, talked about what he saw from his team.

“Our guys inside came to play,” Izzo said. “Those guys, today, they played like men. Schilling got a couple man rebounds. And that’s the difference.”

One player in particular received praise from Izzo was freshman Deyonta Davis.

“DD (Deyonta Davis) kind of figured out that the other night wasn’t good enough,” Izzo said. “I told him that he’s got knees that have never been scratched. Today, if he could get a floor burn on his knees, I’d hug and kiss him, but I didn’t quite do that. When I saw him go on the floor, I said ‘that kid is growing up’.”

Normally when a team has a Wooden Award candidate like Denzel Valentine, he’s what everyone is talking about, but he started the game 0-for-6. MSU’s second leading scorer, Bryn Forbes, also struggled, not scoring until the halfway point in the first half.

Roughly six minutes into the first half, Michigan State had only made three of its 15 attempted shots.

So how MSU was able to keep the lead throughout the shooting drought and the entire game?

Defense.

“We have to have our defense if our shots aren’t going in,” Izzo said. “I appreciated the way we just kept checking and no body got down on it.I think that is a big step in the right direction.”

Senior Matt Costello, who finished the game with a 10 point, 10 rebound double-double, gave his interpretation of what got MSU out of the slump.

“We struggled shooting at the beginning,” Costello said. “Once they got it in there (the paint), we were able to draw attention and kick it out for wide-open shots. And you all know what happens when Bryn gets it going.”

Bryn Forbes has been the X-factor for the Spartans. His first basket, a 3-pointer, didn’t come until the 10 minute mark in the first half. He finished the half with 12 points.

Forbes recognized Costello’s effort and the effect the fastbreak and big men have on his own game.

“I think we ran well,” Forbes said. “We have great passers, we have bigs running – that just opens up everything.”

Valentine also commented on what kind of a difference the bigs can make when they’re playing well.

“They’re (PSU) trying to worry about the post-up and the screener and then Eron is open for a shot,” Valentine said. “Things like that.”

With 4:53 left in the half, the refs blew the whistle on PSU’s Brandon Taylor, and the Penn State bench erupted. Two technical fouls later, Penn State coach Pat Chambers was ejected and had to be restrained by multiple assistants.

“These kids work so hard for us,” Chambers said. “If I feel like that’s being taken away from them, then I’m gonna fight for them. We’re trying build a culture. We’re trying to buck the system of being the butt of everybody’s jokes.”

Izzo sympathized with his fellow head coach.

“We’re all frustrated sometimes,” Izzo said. “This is a good coach who’s busting his butt.”

Michigan State started 3-for-15, but went 14-for-18 to close out the half, 17-for-33 as a whole.

Both Valentine and Izzo said, “our defense and our rebounding” was what made the difference for MSU in the first half. MSU out-rebounded PSU 28-14 and outscored the Nittany Lions 52-27.

Penn State went on a 8-2 run to start the second half, but that was quickly stopped and the 22-point lead grew even larger.

With the MSU starters on the floor playing a disheartened Penn State team, everything was clicking.

“Our break was good because our defense was good,” Izzo said. “Our rebounding was good. Our offense was good. And that makes the break better. It’s so funny how they all fit together.”

The game was not as easy for Izzo, though.

In the middle of a blowout in the third to last regular season game of the year, he had to make a tough decision.

“I struggled,” Izzo said. “I got some players that are up for some awards. Taking them out with 11 and 12 minutes left to go in the game. But I was really excited about how Denzel, Bryn, and Matt handled it. If Pat (Chambers) wouldn’t have gotten thrown out, I might’ve left them in there longer, but my heart over-ruled my head.”

Denzel Valentine, who is one player up for multiple awards, was also chasing his third triple-double of the season. He played 27 total minutes and finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, and six assists.

Valentine had half a dozen assists, but the entire team assisted 22 of their 28 made baskets.

“That’s just our team,” Valentine said. “We take pride in sharing the basketball, being unselfish.”

The entire starting lineup sat the last seven minutes of the contest. 14 Spartans touched the floor, with no player playing less than seven minutes.

Four Spartans scored in double figures, including Costello. His double-double is the sixth in Big Ten play this season, which leads the conference.

The 88-57 win is MSU’s fourth in a row, but it did not come without room for improvement.

MSU went 22-for-33 from the free throw line. They also had a better three-point percentage than field-goal percentage. The 11 turnovers were also not ideal.

“The most fun in coaching is to address something and get a response,” Izzo said. “But we’re not done pushing buttons, there’s still a lot of things to work on.”

Despite a few disappointing stats, Michigan State is still on a hot streak. They are peaking at just the right time, right before postseason play.

“Yeah, we’re playing well,” Costello said. “But we don’t feel like we’re playing well if that makes sense. We still see all our mistakes and where we’re messing up.”

Chambers reflected on the game (or the 15 minutes he watched of it).

“We were 4-1, playing really good basketball,” Chambers said. “But Michigan State is playing at a really incredible level. Your three seniors (Valentine, Forbes, and Costello) and their leadership is obviously incredible. You can hear them talking out there all the time.”

The Big Ten Tournament and Selection Sunday is less than two wees away for the team.

“We got a large ladder to climb here,” Izzo said. “Step-by-step, day-by-day, we’re just gonna try to get better. We did a lot of things that are gonna help us. If we can keep growing and not let [in] any distractions, I think we got a chance to make a run. That’s what it’s all about.”

MSU has two regular season games left. Wednesday at Rutgers at 7 p.m. on the Big Ten Network. And next Saturday versus Ohio State (who beat No. 8 Iowa on Sunday) at 12 p.m. on ESPN.

It will take a lot for MSU to win a regular season Big Ten title, but it’s only possible if they win out. A top-four seed in the Big Ten Tournament is likely for the Spartans. They will also be in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with No. 5 Xavier losing on Sunday.