Michigan State coming into Saturday’s game against Maryland with a three-game losing streak might have taken some of the national luster off of this game, but it should not have changed how the Terrapins viewed the Spartans.
In a game that was at times a rock fight and at others a back-and-forth, one-on-one battle between two of the nation’s best players, Tom Izzo and Michigan State avoided a four-game losing streak with a 74-65 victory over Maryland in East Lansing.
The Spartans have now still not lost four games in a row since the 1996-97 season.
Michigan State's Denzel Valentine was terrific, two assists shy of a triple-double with 19 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists. Maryland’s Melo Trimble did his best to counter, scoring 24 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and dishing out three assists.
But it was the supporting casts that changed this game, Michigan State getting 25 points from guard Bryn Forbes and 12 rebounds from senior Matt Costello while Robert Carter, Jr. was the only other Terrapin to score in double figures.
Here are five things you need to know.
1) Foul-fest early
Damonte Dodd had two fouls in the first 3:22 of the game. He had three by halftime. Robert Carter, Jr. had one early. Diamond Stone did, too. To make a topical comparison, this game quickly went from an untouched, freshly snow-covered field to a gravel-filled, dirty New York City roadside pile real quick.
Neither team was hitting shots. It was an unpleasant watch.
2) Falling in love with the outside shot
Maryland has two interior assets that Michigan State, on paper, should not be able to defend -- Stone and Carter. Even so, Maryland fell in love with the outside shot and struggled to work the ball inside in the early going.
Stone took just two shots in the first half. Carter was 1-of-5 from the floor. Layman was also 1-of-5. On the few possessions where they did work inside-out, they had success, but there was not enough of it in the first 20 minutes.
3) Getting outworked on the glass
Closing out possessions proved to be a problem for Maryland against Northwestern. Offensive rebounds helped the Wildcats stay in the game. The same thing happened Saturday against Michigan State.
The Spartans had controlled the first-half offensive boards. Though that only translated into relatively few second-chance points, the points aren’t the only concern. Failing to close out a possession means you have to defend for longer stretches, which in a physical game expose you to more opportunities to foul and dig yourself into a hole.
Maryland was -7 on the boards in the first half and trailed by six points at the break.
4) Total offensive overhaul in the second half
Maryland went on a 17-7 run over the first four minutes of the second half by completely changing how they played offensively. Inside of falling in love with that jump shot, the ball went to Stone and Carter and Trimble in pick-and-roll looks.
That is the manual on beating Michigan State. Make their bigs move around and spread the floor. Stone and Carter are too mobile and skilled not to be utilized. After going up by four with 15:54, Maryland slipped back into its bad habits.
A few missed shots, long rebounds, and transition opportunities open the floor for a guy like Denzel Valentine to go to work. The Spartans retook the lead.
5) A battle down the stretch
Big-time plays make plays in big-time moments. Michigan State needed Denzel Valentine and he delivered. Beginning at the 10:04 mark of the second half, the Spartans ripped off a 9-0 run to create some separation.
But back came Maryland in a simplified offense. It was as simple as a running a high ball screen every possession with Trimble and either Stone or Carter and it helped them chip away and get within three with 5:02 to go.
The same things that hurt Maryland early hurt them late, though. Within one possession, 68-65, the Terrapins forced a miss but Michigan State center Matt Costello got a huge offensive rebound -- one of his 12 total boards on the night -- to keep the possession alive and force Maryland to foul.
The Spartans would close it out from there and Costello, upon exiting the game, hugged head coach Tom Izzo and lifted him off of his feet to celebrate the victory.