December 29, 2014

Denzel Valentine had one of the worst performances of his career when Michigan State met Maryland in last year's Big Ten tournament semifinals. That team wasn't as dependent on him as the current version of the Spartans, who still pulled out a victory before advancing to the Final Four.

The senior stepped up in the only matchup this season, though, and he'll look to help the second-ranked Spartans reach their third straight tournament championship game when they face the 18th-ranked Terrapins on Saturday.

Valentine shot 1 for 8 from the floor - his only made basket of any kind came on one of his seven 3-point attempts - in last year's semis. But its then-seniors helped Michigan State (27-5) overcome a 16-point deficit in a 62-58 victory over Maryland (25-7) before falling to Wisconsin in overtime in the title game.

The conference player of the year and Wooden Award finalist played much better in his first game in Indianapolis this year and is determined to get the Spartans back to the Big Ten final again as they seek a conference-record fifth tournament championship.

Valentine finished with 19 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in Friday's 81-54 rout of Ohio State in the quarterfinals, keeping him on pace to become the first player to average at least 19, seven and seven since the NCAA started keeping assists as an official stat in 1983-84.

''We didn't accomplish one of our goals, to win the Big Ten (regular-season) championship outright, and we're kind of mad about it,'' Valentine said. ''Me and (fellow senior) Matt (Costello) never won a Big Ten championship outright, so we're kind of mad right now and we've got something to play for.''

The Spartans have made it clear that giving coach Tom Izzo his eighth Final Four appearance and second national title are the main focus, and winning it all in Indianapolis would be a great way to transition into the NCAA Tournament.

Eron Harris scored 13 points while freshman Deyonta Davis added 12 and seven rebounds for Michigan State, which was able to empty its bench toward the end and give the starters extra rest for the weekend.

''Our goal when we got here was to win a national championship and we haven't accomplished that yet,'' Valentine said. ''I think we have the perfect team to do it this year, and we're really hungry to do that this year.''

Bryn Forbes scored 25 points in the only regular-season meeting with the Terps on Jan. 23, and Valentine's 19, career-high 14 rebounds and eight assists helped the Spartans defeat Maryland 74-65 in East Lansing.

Melo Trimble finished with 24 points in that contest for the Terps, who advanced to the semis with a 97-86 victory over Nebraska. Maryland led by 23 at one point before the Cornhuskers closed to within six in the final two minutes.

Jake Layman scored a season-high 26 points and freshman Diamond Stone added 23 for the Terrapins, who shot 60.3 percent while hitting 13 of 22 from 3-point range.

Trimble's eight assists were his most in 14 games.

"(The Spartans) play fast," Layman said. "We are going to try to slow them down a little bit and see if that works for us. They're playing well right now. It's going to be a fun game."

Trimble has been stellar in his last three against the Spartans, averaging 23.3 points while shooting 49.0 percent.

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