EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Tom Izzo has been telling his players when they’re not making shots that defense and rebounding can win games, especially in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 6 Michigan State showed that against Penn State on Sunday.
Denzel Valentine started slow and finished strong with 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists to help the sixth-ranked Spartans beat the Nittany Lions 88-57.
Valentine missed his first six shots as Michigan State was off to a 3-of-15 shooting start.
“Our defense and rebounding kept us in the game and that’s the way we have to win as we move forward,” Izzo said. “It makes me feel like they’re listening.”
The Spartans (24-5, 11-5 Big Ten) have won four straight and eight of nine, outscoring teams by 21-plus points in those victories and losing only to then-No. 18 Purdue by one point in overtime on the road during the stretch.
“I think we’ve got a chance to make a run,” Izzo said.
Penn State had been on a relatively successful run recently.
The Nittany Lions (15-14, 6-10) had won three straight and four of five, including victories over then-No. 4 Iowa and then-No. 22 Indiana.
“We were hopeful to put up a fight at least,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “And, we didn’t do that.”
Chambers did his part by being feisty.
He was ejected with 4:53 left in the first half when he was called for two technical fouls within the same rant. Chambers had to be held back by his coaching staff, two assistants at one point, as he tried to charge toward officials more than once before leaving the court. After Chambers was ejected, he started to gather his team for some parting thoughts before he tried to go back at the officials.
“We’re trying to buck the system of being the brunt of everybody’s jokes,” Chambers said. “So we’re going to fight, players are going to fight.”
After the Spartans’ miss-filled start, they connected on 14 of 18 shots.
“We played hard with energy and effort,” Valentine said.
Despite making just 37 percent in the second half, they easily maintained their comfortable cushion.
“Michigan State is playing at an incredible level,” Chambers said.
Michigan State’s Deyonta Davis and Bryn Forbes scored 15 points each and Matt Costello had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Shep Garner had 22 points and Devin Foster scored 11 for the Nittany Lions during a game in which their respect for Chambers grew.
“I love it when Coach comes out and battles for us,” Garner said. “That’s what he does. He puts his neck on the line.”
Penn State: Brandon Taylor entered the game as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. He fouled out with 7:20 left in the game with as many fouls as he had combined points (2) and rebounds (3). The 6-foot-6 senior forward, who shared Big Ten player of the week honors on Monday, was averaging 16.6 points and 6.6 rebounds. Taylor had scored in double digits the previous 16 games, including 24- and 18-point outputs against the Hoosiers and Hawkeyes. … While Chambers was kept away from the court in the second half, one of his assistants was called for a technical foul.
Michigan State: Valentine, a national player of the year candidate, has a chance to become the first player in at least three decades to average 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. He entered the game averaging nearly 20 points, seven-plus rebounds and more than seven assists per game. The NCAA began keeping assists as an official statistic during the 1983-84 season.
Penn State hosts Northwestern on Thursday.
Michigan State plays at Rutgers on Wednesday.
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