Defense Leads Spartans to Championship Game

INDIANAPOLIS — Deyonta Davis has long arms. Diamond Stone found that out the hard way.

Stone backed down Costello in the closing minute, down by one. He turned and put up a floater destined to give the Terps a late lead, and pterodactyl Davis swooped in and sent it back. A split second later and goaltending surely would have been called.

“I’m used to blocking shots like that,” said Davis.

No. 2 seed Michigan State (28-5) survived a gritty defensive battle with No. 3 seed Maryland (25-8) on Saturday afternoon with a trip to the Big Ten Tournament Championship game hanging in the balance. These two squads were arguably two of the most talented teams in the nation, let alone the conference, and the game lived up to its billing. The Spartans squeaked a win out in dramatic fashion 64-61.

“I think it’s good we had a tight game today,” said senior forward Matt Costello. “It proved we were able to win with our defense. But we were so sorry on offense for the last 10 minutes. We can improve on that leaps and bounds. I know it starts with me with turnovers. But other than that, our defense is good. But we need to clean up on offense.”

Up by one with 10 seconds left, Wooden Award candidate Denzel Valentine headed to the line for a one-and-one. As close to a sure thing as possible, right? Wrong. Valentine came up short on the first, giving Maryland a chance to take the lead before Davis came up with his heroic block.

“I thought it was good but it was a little short,” said Valentine. “I kind of faded a little bit and I couldn’t believe it. I just decided to shake it off and run back and try to get a stop and I think I got it back by getting that rebound.”

MSU’s Eron Harris and Maryland’s Jake Layman got into a verbal spat just minutes into the game and both teams had to be separated. A double technical was assessed and Harris found himself a seat on the bench.

“It happens in big games,” said Harris, “just gotta keep your composure. He (Coach Izzo) let me know that was stupid of me, I’ve gotta use my head. You can’t let people bait us into losing our heads on that. We’ve got to keep our composure so that we can stay on the floor.”

Whatever Coach Izzo said to Harris on the sideline lit a fire in him. The Indianapolis native took over the game as soon as he returned to the floor, slashing to the rim and knocking down threes.

Michigan State’s lead ballooned to 12 late in the first half, putting Maryland on the ropes. Terps coach Mark Turgeon picked up a technical foul for arguing with an official soon after. But Maryland kept their composure and hung with the Spartans, cutting the lead to eight at halftime.

Maryland star point guard Melo Trimble slogged through one of his worst games of the season, finishing with 11 points on an awful 2-for-15 shooting. Both teams struggled to put the ball in the hoop in the second frame after an explosive offensive showing in the first. Maryland went 10 minutes and 12 seconds without making a single field goal late in the second half, but their relentless defense kept them within reach.

Maryland did a phenomenal job at shutting down Spartan sharpshooter Bryn Forbes, who failed to connect on a three-pointer the entire game. This was just the fourth game in which Forbes has not made at least one from beyond the arc. Maryland’s stifling defense guided them to a one-point lead with just under seven minutes to play.

“They had a heck of a game plan,” said Valentine. “They forced us to do some things offensively that we’re not used to doing. They kind of took us out of our game. We kind of panicked there in the second half.”

It took Valentine 19 minutes and 58 seconds to hit his first shot from the field, a gorgeous step-back jumper to close out the first half. But he had his hand in all parts of the offense. Valentine assisted on nine of MSU’s first 15 buckets, finishing with 10 dimes to go along with 18 points and seven rebounds.

Up next for MSU is a chance to capture the Big Ten Title against Purdue, the only team that has beaten Michigan State in the last 13 games. The Boilermakers held off a desperate Michigan team earlier in the day, thanks in large part to AJ Hammons’ 27 points and 11 rebounds. A win for the Spartans could propel them to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. and the game can be seen on CBS.