Valentine’s Leadership Sparks Blowout Win

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2016 has been a rough year for Rutgers (6-16, 0-9).

Since their last win on December 28, the Scarlet Knights are 0-9, including a 50-point slaughter at Purdue. The Breslin Center provided no respite for the weary Knights, as they would fall 96-62.

Bryn Forbes was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half. His scoring barrage of four consecutive three-pointers helped extend the Spartan lead to 16 midway through the first. But shoddy defensive play from State allowed Rutgers to hang around.

The absence of Tum Tum Nairn is most obvious on the defensive end of the floor. Guards Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid missed assignments and looked confused at times, allowing Rutgers to make a comeback.

“Some of those guys that shot threes didn’t guard anybody,” said Coach Izzo, “and I’m not reverting back to that because that was last year’s. We’re going to focus in big on how to guard people, how to stop the dribble drive, how to contest threes and the thing that I just think we got a little sloppy on. I understand some of it but I don’t understand it.”

The Scarlet Knights surged back and cut the deficit to 34-27 with six and a half to play in the first period. They were able to keep the halftime score to a respectable 44-33, close enough to make MSU sweat.

One player not satisfied with MSU’s effort on both ends of the floor was Denzel Valentine. The senior guard and captain drew praise from Coach Izzo after the game for how he controlled huddles and kept his team focused.

“I always talk about a player-coached team but he (Valentine) saved me today,” said Izzo. “I didn’t have to do much because he was doing a lot of the work. He got after some people in those huddles and it was good. He did what he needed to do and didn’t like what he saw either.”

The team certainly took Valentine’s words to heart, because the second half was a much different story.

“We weren’t playing the best defense we could have, and I was kinda frustrated,” said Valentine. “We were going on a run in the second half and people were trying to celebrate, and I’m like ‘no!’ We keep doing this. We keep getting a lead, then they cut it down to 13, then we get a lead, I was tired of it. I kinda just went off.”

Michigan State’s combination of deadly three-point shooting and control of the boards proved insurmountable. MSU started the second half just as hot as the first, knocking down four of their first six long balls. In only nine minutes, the Spartans outscored the Scarlet Knights by 17 and buried any chances of an upset. The lead exploded to as much as 38 in the second half.

The scoring rampage was made even more impressive by the fact that Forbes did not score a single point after halftime. He put up 18 in the first, all on three-pointers. Valentine led all scorers with 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Deyonta Davis and Matt Costello feasted on the Scarlet Knights’ smaller lineup. The two combined for 18 points and 25 rebounds on 9-13 shooting. Junior Gavin Schilling came off the bench and contributed eight boards to go along with four points.

Domination on the glass

Undersized and undermanned, Rutgers had no solution to keep State off the boards. MSU opened the second half with a commanding 19-1 edge in rebounding.

Yes, you read that right, 19-1.

“Our kids battled and I saw a lot of box-outs from our guys,” said Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan. “I mean, you have a 6-foot-9 guy who is 30 or 40 pounds heavier who will get a rebound right over a box-out, so I am proud of our guys.”

MSU finished with a 56-27 advantage in rebounding, including a 17-5 edge on the offensive boards. The Spartans’ size led to second chance points, 33 to be exact, compared to just two for Rutgers.

Going for the record

Forbes and Valentine were lethal from beyond the arc in the Spartans’ win on Sunday night. The two combined to hit 12 of MSU’s 17 threes, and Forbes didn’t even score in the second half.

The 17 threes tied a school-record for most in a game. MSU reached that mark in 2014 against Purdue. The Spartans have now hit 33 three pointers in the last two games. Not too shabby.

Up next

The Spartans get a week-long respite before heading into the hostile confines of Ann Arbor. Saturday’s matchup with Michigan will be the only one of the season. Harris is looking forward to playing against the Wolverines for the first time.

“I’m pretty familiar being here for two years now,” said Harris on the rivalry. “This is my first one I’m gonna play in, so I can’t truly understand until I’m playing, but we’re gonna amp things up this week. I know that for a fact.”

Tip-off at the Crisler Center is set for 2 p.m. and the game will be aired on CBS.