Among those are calling a timeout late on the final possession and not fouling when leading by three. He went against one of those methods and was prepared to go against the other Saturday and it paid off.
”As soon as I got it, I was like this is going in,” Valentine said. “I don’t want to go into overtime. I’ve had enough of overtime games.
”It was an unexplainable feeling.”
Izzo opted not to call timeout when the Spartans got the ball back with 36 seconds to go after OSU’s Sam Thompson buried a 3 to tie it 56-56.
”It kind of goes by the situation,” he said. “I didn’t want to give them a chance to stack up their defense. They were giving us trouble.”
He already had drawn up the play he wanted on the possession and MSU executed it. Then he elected to foul on the final possession for Ohio State, but Valentine knocked the ball loose and OSU never got off a shot.
The reasoning? He was pretty sure what play Ohio State would run as it was the same play the Buckeyes ran against Michigan in the 2010 Big Ten Tournament with Evan Turner – who was in attendance at Breslin Center – so he elected to foul.
”Having Evan Turner in the house helped me know what they were going to run,” Izzo said. “It was just the thought. A couple players felt good about it. I talked to my staff, they did.”
And it worked out for the Spartans, who executed time and time again down the stretch, something that has been an issue at points this season.
“It was fun to be in a huddle with three minutes left and look at my three guys that have been struggling a little bit at times,” Izzo said.
Dawson got the first pair at the free-throw line, a spot where he and the Spartans have had issues all season. This time, Dawson had the first bounce through and swished the second, putting a smile on Izzo’s face and putting MSU ahead 54-51.
”I could just do nothing but smile when Dawson made his free throws,” Izzo said. “It was just kind of one of those moments I’ll probably remember for a long time. It’s something stupid, he’s a great player but he has struggled from there.”
Dawson finished with his seventh double-double in 12 Big Ten games with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Next up was Trice, who went hard to the hoop and finished off the glass to extend the MSU lead back to three, 56-53.
”Trice, I told him I could put the ball in his hand but it can’t be for a jacked three and he took that one to the hole,” Izzo said. “It was almost like somebody was looking down and it just all went like it’s supposed to go.”
After Thompson hit a 3 to tie the game, Valentine was set up to be the hero and he came through after not converting a late chance against Illinois a week earlier. He was happy to have the ball back in his hands – which Izzo said will be the decision late in games moving forward.
“That’s what I want – that’s why I came here,” he said. “That’s why I work hard at night, in the morning, noon. So I can be in those positions. Coach has been a great leader in my life and last week I kinda let him down. I wanted to make up for it.”
He did that with his fifth 3-pointer of the game, giving him a game-high 17 points and giving the Spartans their first win against a Top 25 team this season.
The win came on the heels of a 68-44 rout of Northwestern earlier in the week, giving MSU much-needed wins to boost its NCAA Tournament resume and to get things rolling in crunch time.
”I feel like we are starting to get rolling at the right time,” Trice said. “Early in the year, we probably wouldn’t have played as well at Northwestern on the road and we might have found a way to lose this game.
”It’s just big to get those two wins in a row and really get rolling toward the end of the year.”
And with six games left in Big Ten play and a 16-8 record, MSU has the chance to finish strong and secure an 18th straight NCAA Tournament bid.
“It’s been a struggle and been a process, but nobody said everything was going to go perfect,” Izzo said. “That’s how you want it always, but life’s not fair. Sometimes it takes you the hard way to get to the good stuff. We just kept working and we are going to keep working.
”We aren’t done yet. We still have some Big Ten games left and hopefully we can sneak into a good run in the NCAA Tournament.”