Spartans Capture Big Ten Tourney Title Over Purdue

INDIANAPOLIS — In a thrilling final chapter of the Big Ten season, the Michigan State Spartans dug deep to deliver a conference championship back to East Lansing.

The No. 2 seed Spartans outlasted the No. 4 seed Purdue Boilermakers on Sunday, 66-62, behind another well-rounded performance from senior guard Denzel Valentine. The Wooden Award candidate, who was named Tournament MVP, gritted his way through fatigue to score yet another near-triple double, amassing 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists.

[su_quote]“We’re just happy to be here and have this opportunity,” said Izzo, who notched his 100th career victory in the month of March. “I’m so proud of them and to win this tournament championship is great for our program.”[/su_quote]

The atmosphere in Bankers Life Fieldhouse was electric throughout the afternoon. Purdue snagged the early lead by establishing itself down low with AJ Hammons and Caleb Swanigan. The Boilermakers were hitting layups on the offensive end and forced MSU to take jump shots on the other end.

In the meantime, Tom Izzo’s team went deep into the bench early, getting early rest for Bryn Forbes, Eron Harris and Matt Costello. Freshman guard Matt McQuaid hit a three-pointer to give the Spartans a 12-11 lead with 12:10 left in the half. The Spartan reserves hung in with the beastly Boilermakers, trading blow for blow.

“That’s what’s been so good about us throughout the year,” said Valentine. “We’re so deep. Everybody can come in and contribute.”

The first big run of the game came with Michigan State finally finding an inside presence and running in transition. Layups from Gavin Schilling and Colby Wollenman sparked an 18-5 run that gave Michigan State a 36-26 lead at halftime, which was Purdue’s largest halftime deficit of the season. The run included five points from Alvin Ellis, a junior guard who has risen in his role over the past few weeks.

“It’s great to see a guy who struggled for two years hung with it,” Izzo said. “We almost didn’t hang with him. And he bounced back, and he’s making a contribution.”

The two team traded buckets to start the second half until Marvin Clark Jr. hit a three to extend Michigan State’s lead to 13, their largest of the game. But that’s when Purdue would bounce right back.

Swanigan and Vince Edwards spearheaded an 8-0 run to bring the pro-Purdue crowd, likely a 65-35 advantage, to its feet. Michigan State was stifled by the Boilers’ defense, turning the ball over three times in that run. With all the momentum swinging in the Boilermakers’ favor, the Spartans were in desperate need of a big play, and they got just that with 11:59 remaining.

With the crowd screaming and the shot clock running down, Valentine drove to the lane and stumbled. He somehow corralled the ball and, as he was falling down, lobbed the ball up to freshman forward Deyonta Davis for the alley-oop finish. The wild play brought an eruption from the MSU crowd and halted the Purdue run.

But the Boilers weren’t done. Surprisingly, they looked to their guards, an underachieving bunch all season long, to claw into the Spartan lead. Johnny Hill scored five points in a 7-0 Purdue run to bring the MSU lead all the way down to one, 52-51, with 7:47 remaining.

The Spartans would build their lead back to seven with 5:08 remaining after a Colby Wollenman putback dunk. Purdue responded by going down low to Hammons, who finished with 11 points and nine  rebounds on 4-of-10 shooting. The senior, named to the All-Tournament team, dunked over Matt Costello and drew a foul for a chance at the three-point play. He sunk the free throw to make the Spartan lead 62-60 with 3:39 left.

The final minutes were tight and hotly contested, but with both teams playing their third game in as many days, it came as no surprise that shots weren’t falling. Purdue finished the game on a 1-for-10 scoring drought from the field and missed six straight to end it.

Swanigan, the one-time MSU commit, all but ended it when he threw up an ill-advised three that had “brick” all over it with 45 seconds left, trailing 64-62. Matt Costello then missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Boilers a chance at the tie or the win. But without a timeout in hand, Hill went to the basket only to be swatted away by Costello, redeeming himself and securing the victory for Michigan State. Costello had four blocks in the second half alone, making him the all-time block leader in school history.

Bryn Forbes hit two free throws to complete the final scoring margin. Even though the senior guard wasn’t his usual self from the field (1-for-6 from three, 2-for-8 overall), his defense caught praise from Izzo.

“Man, I think he’s got some basketball ahead of him,” Izzo said. “He’s getting better. This was a good sign that he struggled and kept playing. Not that I kept playing him. He kept playing.”

The Spartans won their fifth Big Ten tournament title, their third in the last five years.

“We’re just happy to be here and have this opportunity,” said Izzo, who notched his 100th career victory in the month of March. “I’m so proud of them and to win this tournament championship is great for our program.”

But the conference championship wasn’t enough to warrant a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, which revealed its seedings following the game.

Michigan State was awarded the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region and will take on No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee State in the first round this Friday from St. Louis. The game will tip off at approximately 2:45 EST. The seeding didn’t discourage the Spartans after the game.

“As far as a one seed, man, it is what it is,” said Costello. “That was out of our control. We took care of what we could take care of, and we know we got some goals ahead of us. So let’s enjoy this win for a little bit, but we got some work to do.”

But with one championship in the bag, the Spartans aren’t planning to celebrate this one for long.

“We’re not done yet,” Valentine said. “We’ve got six more games. I’m trying to win a national championship.”