It seems like nothing has come easily for Michigan State basketball in the past month at Breslin Center.
Wednesday night marked another back-and-forth game for the Spartans against a Big Ten opponent – its third such game at home in conference play. This time, as it did against Northwestern in overtime 10 days earlier, Michigan State made enough plays late to win 66-60 against Penn State.
”We are figuring out how to win,” center Matt Costello said. “It was ugly still, but I think we are getting better and we just gotta keep pushing.”
It took late defensive heroics from Branden Dawson against the Nittany Lions to emerge victorious. The senior had a pair of blocks and a steal in the final 3:06, including using every inch of his 6-foot-7 to block a shot from D.J. Newbill in the final minute.
The final block led to an easy layup for Travis Trice to put Michigan State head 63-56 to essentially wrap up the game.
”A lot of that has to do with B.J.,” Trice said. “He had a block on one and then forced a tough shot on one and we get a leak out. A lot of that credit goes to him, but that kinda gets us going. Our defense definitely keys our offense.”
Bryn Forbes, who missed his first three 3-point attempts, came back huge late for MSU as he hit three 3s in the final 10 minutes. Denzel Valentine, who mostly struggled throughout the game as he dealt with foul trouble, had a key jumper from the elbow to put MSU ahead 53-51 to break the final tie of the game.
But when a technical foul was called on Penn State coach Patrick Chambers with 3:41 to go, MSU capitalized. Valentine hit one of the ensuing free throws then Forbes hit a 3-pointer to put MSU up 57-51. A Dawson steal led to an open court layup for Trice and just like that in little more than a minute, MSU went from tied 51-51 to leading 59-51.
“That series was great for us,” Dawson said. “We have been having trouble closing games out toward the end. We just did a great job defensively.
”We stayed together and we stayed poised and a lot of guys really stepped up for us.”
Penn State made another run after the Spartans took an eight-point lead after Valentine stepped out of bounds after Dawson’s first block. A handful of free throws and a layup by Newbill pulled the Nittany Lions within 59-56 with 1:28 to go. But a Costello layup and Trice’s layup gave MSU the final push.
The Spartans got a balanced attack with five players in double figures., led by Dawson’s 12 points and 10 rebounds. Gavin Schilling also posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Valentine finished with 11, while Trice and Costello had 10 each.
Newbill had a game-high 27 points with 18 coming in the second half.
But the lesson was apparent again, as MSU still is looking to learn to finish games earlier and avoid the ugly wins.
“We just have to find a way to separate ourselves from the opponents, especially toward the end of the game,” Schilling said. “We just came out and let them get confidence and let them stay with us throughout the whole game. We have been struggling with that this this whole season, so we gotta improve with that and learn how to separate ourselves from opponents late in the game.”