Clemmons Leans on MSU's Valentine

Anthony Clemmons and Denzel Valentine have been friends since as long as they can remember. Thursday, they put that connection to the side when Iowa plays host to Michigan State in a Big Ten tilt.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Denzel Valentine serves as Anthony Clemmons' go-to guy. Thursday night, the former high school and AAU teammates put aside the tight bond for a few hours.

Clemmons and Iowa play host to Valentine's Michigan State squad (6 p.m. CT, ESPN) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It's the lone regular-season meeting scheduled between the Big Ten foes.

Clemmons suffered through a sophomore slump in 2013-14 when he as out of shape physically and mentally. The Lansing (MI) Sexton High product rededicated himself to the game this past summer and has been a key cog in Iowa starting this season 11-4 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten, its best conference beginning since '02-03.

Clemmons returned home and worked out with his close friend last offseason. They've talked throughout this campaign during which they and their teams have experienced highs and lows.

"He's always been there for me in tough times," Clemmons said. "He was actually there for me this year when times kind of dropped. He's always been that great guy that can help me and build my confidence. He always pulled me to the gym with him, workouts and stuff like that.

"That's just the type of guy he is. He's always been a team player. I applaud him for that."

The Spartans (10-5, 1-1) won both meetings with Iowa last year. MSU is 6-0 against the Hawkeyes during the time Clemmons and Valentine have played in the series.

"We're both competitors. Even in one-on-one games, we try to beat each other so whenever we face up against each other we're trying to throw out the friendship thing and just play ball," Clemmons said.

Iowa is trying to climb the ladder in the Big Ten and the Spartans are a team it's been unable to solve. The Hawkeyes led in both games last year only to see MSU make more plays down the stretch.

"It's probably who is the tougher team," Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff said. "You can go that route with any (opponent) but I think it's especially true with Michigan State."

Iowa looks more like the Spartans this year than in the past, style wise. Both teams rely on defense to create offense and grind out victories.

"The thing with them is the intensity that they play the game (with)," Iowa captain Aaron White said. "We know they're going to be prepared for us. They have a great swagger about them. They have an ability to close out possessions and games that really helps them win games. That's the challenge when you play them."

Valentine (13.8 PPG) leads MSU in scoring. White will face off with Brandon Dawson, who averages 10.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals.

"He's an extreme athlete," White said. "Quick off the floor. He doesn't need to gather to get 12 feet above the ground. He grabs rebounds out of his area. He's improved offensively.

"It's going to be fun playing against him; a good challenge for both of us."

See what else Clemmons, Uthoff and White said about the Spartans in these video interviews from Wednesday:

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