For a little while Monday night, Michigan State looked like it could be in for another long night after Saturday’s loss to Texas Southern.
The Citadel took the lead late in the first half on an alley oop from Ashton Moore to Quinton Marshall. But instead of the dunk igniting the Bulldogs, it sparked the Spartans as they went on a 26-0 run on their way an 82-56 win.
It was the defense that keyed the run, though, said junior Denzel Valentine.
”When you’re playing defense like that, fast break opportunities open up and we get easy buckets and things run more fluid,” said Valentine, who finished with a game-high 18 points. “It’s always good when you can do that.”
The Spartans held The Citadel without a field goal for more than 14 minutes, spanning from Marshall’s dunk until P.J. Horgan hit a jumper with 8:48 left in the game. In that time, Michigan State went on a 36-2 run to lead 61-28 after trailing 26-26-25 following the alley oop with 3:01 to go in the first half.
”We turned it up defensively and we went on a hell of a run,” coach Tom Izzo said. “Not perfect, but definitely a big step.”
The run was keyed by just that, the run, as Michigan State got out in transition and pushed the ball up the court with success. The Spartans finished with a 30-3 edge in fastbreak points with 22 coming in the second half.
“It was pretty tough because that’s a quick turnaround (from Saturday),” Valentine said. “That’s like an NBA schedule, but I think it took us a while to get our second wind, but once we got our second wind, we were fine.”
Early on, The Citadel played Michigan State closely, taking the lead twice in the first half. But the Spartans weathered the storm and closed the first half on a 7-0 run, which was capped by a 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds left by Valentine.
“We weren’t really worried,” senior Travis Trice said. “Just coming in here at halftime we saw the look on everyone’s eyes and we knew we were going to pick it up and that kinda sparked that run that we had.”
While MSU had a major advantage in points in transition, they also had a big edge in the paint with 44 points inside. Matt Costello had double-digit points for the fifth straight game as he finished with 13 points, while Gavin Schilling chipped in 11 and the pair combined for nine rebounds.
”Which one of you guys thought we’d get 24 and nine out of our center? Me neither,” Izzo said. “Those guys have been our most consistent players so far.”
Most importantly for Michigan State, they rebounded after a tough upset loss.
”I am still talking about it because I’m still ticked off about it,” Izzo said. “I wanted to be one of the teams it didn’t happen to. And it did.”
But the Spartans responded with a long day of practice Sunday, as they went through shooting and meetings from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. After Izzo went on a recruiting trip, he returned for another practice in the evening. It was all about making sure the same outcome was not to happen again.
"It's not the losing, it's what you do when you lose," Izzo said. "I think we at least proved some things. It was a long day for me yesterday, it was a long day for them."
The results were good and something the Spartans hope to see continue heading into Big Ten play, which opens on Dec. 30 when conference newcomer Maryland comes to town.
“We’ve had times where we played defense like that,” Valentine said, “but for our stretch, I feel like that was probably our best stretch and hopefully we keep that up for Big Ten season.”