Spartans "get to work another day" with win

Michigan State heads to ninth Elite Eight under Tom Izzo after knocking off No. 3 seed Oklahoma in the early hours of Saturday morning. It took big performances from Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine, with some big shots from Branden Dawson

Michigan State was on its heels early in a late Friday night game against Oklahoma.

It took a big opening blow from the Sooners, was all over the place offensively for much of the first half, but found enough to put its better foot forward behind Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine.

The pair combined for 42 points – six big ones at the free-throw line late – and plenty of big plays between the two and Branden Dawson to take down No. 3 seed Oklahoma 62-58 early in the morning Saturday at the Carrier Dome.

”Get to work another day and I can’t tell you how excited that makes me,” coach Tom Izzo said. “I’m just tickled to death to still be playing.”

The Spartans will face No. 4 seed Louisville in the Elite Eight at 2:20 p.m. Sunday.

It took a little while for Michigan State to get over the hump after trailing by 10 three times in the first half. They pulled within a few multiple times, but Oklahoma kept re-extending its lead.

Finally, Trice drove and finished and Valentine hit a floater to tie the game 39-39. Neither team scored for the next 3:33 until Oklahoma took the lead back with a Buddy Hield and-one – three of his 21 points. Valentine responded right away with a three from the corner to tie 42-42 before a fallaway jumper from Dawson gave MSU its first lead at 44-42 with 9:26 to go.

”The shots I made, they were big,” Dawson said. “I looked and I knew – I saw that the double-team didn’t come. Coach has been talking to me about just making a move all year, so I made my move and made a good shot.”

The Sooners came back again with free throws from Hield and Isaiah Cousins to lead 45-44, but another Dawson fallaway gave MSU the 46-45 lead. A TaShawn Thomas layup put the score back in Oklahoma’s favor, but a Matt Costello putback dunk of his own miss and a Valentine three gave MSU a 51-47 lead for good with 6:21 to go.

Costello said that is when he felt Michigan State got over the hump at last.

”That was when I thought, ‘Alright, we are doing alright. Let’s just the finish the game out,’” he said.

The teams traded scores over the next few possessions as Trice answered a pair of Ryan Spangler free throws with a 3-pointer from the corner to give MSU a 54-49. Thomas came back with a pair of free throws to narrow the lead, but again Trice brought it back with a little pivoting, falling away jumper.

Thomas, who had 16 points, again hit a pair of free throws to pull the score to 56-53.

Then then it turned to the foul game, as Michigan State was sent to the line, where it had gone 3 for 10 for the first 38:41 of the game. But Trice and Valentine combined to go 6 for 6 down the stretch in the final 1:19 to seal the game, keeping the win safe despite a 3-pointer from Hield and a layup from Thomas in the final 25 seconds.

”I’m just thinking knock them down” Trice said. “I just want to win the game.”

Costello offered more explanation of what those free throws meant for Trice and Valentine, who finished with 24 and 18 points, respectively.

”When private parts are on the line, you need to step up and take care of business,” Costello said. “So proud of Trav and Zel. … They made plays for us and finished the game.”

The Sooners opened the game on fire, hitting their first four shots and scoring on nine of their first 10 possessions. But after opening shooting 8 for 11 from the field to open an 18-8 lead, the Sooners hit just 12 of 44 shots the rest of the way.

Michigan State pulled the score to 31-27 at halftime after Valentine and Bryn Forbes each hit a 3-pointer.

Forbes said the halftime scene “wasn’t pretty” in the Spartans’ locker room as Izzo did most of the talking, while Valentine also had some words for the team.

“He just told us we aren’t going to go out like this,” Forbes said.

And after hitting just 2 for 9 in the first half with five points, Valentine scored 13 in the second half to help make sure the season went on for MSU.

”In the first half, I felt like it was my first time playing basketball,” he said. “But I just kind of snapped out of it and I was like, ‘I’m in the Sweet 16 and we’ve got a chance to go to the Final Four.’”

Because of that awakening - and another heroic effort from Trice - Michigan State lived to see another game and the ninth Elite Eight berth under Izzo.

”We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Izzo said. “I’m just so happy we get to work tonight. I can’t tell you.”

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