On the heels of their worst defensive showing of the season in a 13-point loss at Iowa, No. 1 Michigan State rebounded Saturday afternoon with a 69-61 win at Minnesota.
Tom Izzo’s Spartans limited Minnesota to 33.8 percent shooting from the field and 5-for-20 from three, a far cry from the numbers Iowa was able to produce Tuesday night. The Hawkeyes shot better than 48 percent from the field, the best a Michigan State opponent has shot this season, routinely finding quality looks and outworking the Spartans on both ends of the floor.
That wasn’t the case against Minnesota. And while it is clear that Iowa has more talent than Minnesota, getting back to playing the hard-nosed defense their head coach demands of them is a positive response from a Michigan State team still playing without its leader in Denzel Valentine.
Offensively Michigan State did what it had to do in order to pick up the victory, but they’re still a bit disjointed without the versatile senior playmaker. Michigan State committed 11 turnovers, resulting in 14 Minnesota points that helped Richard Pitino’s team stay in the game. In three games without Valentine, Michigan State is averaging 14 turnovers per game, nearly three more than their average in the 12 games Valentine’s played in (11.2 tpg).
When the Spartans took care of the basketball Saturday they were able to produce points more times than not, shooting 49 percent from the field and 17-for-20 from the foul line.
Bryn Forbes led four Spartans in double figures with 20 points, and Matt Costello added 17 and 15 rebounds with fellow big men Gavin Schilling (eight points, five rebounds) and Deyonta Davis (ten points, four rebounds) also being solid performers. It goes without saying that there’s a clear difference in this team with Valentine off the court; it would be incredibly difficult for any team to not skip a beat with their best player out of the lineup.
With Valentine sidelined the “little things” become that much more important for Michigan State, and after being outworked in Iowa City the Spartans were closer to their true selves against Minnesota.