Michigan State's Travis Trice (20) looks to pass around Wisconsin's Josh Gasser (21) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Big Ten Conference tournament in Chicago, Sunday, March 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh
March 17, 2015

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Travis Trice's career at Michigan State was winding down, and the senior wasn't even starting anymore.

It would have been easy for him to hang his head and wonder about his role - but that's not Trice's style.

''It's not about me or about what's going on with me. It's all about the team,'' Trice said. ''And it seemed like it worked, bringing me off the bench.''

That particular lineup change didn't last long - after five games, Trice was put back in the starting lineup - but the results were impressive, both for the 6-foot guard and the rest of the Spartans.

In fact, that period in February when he came off the bench was the start of the best stretch of basketball of Trice's Michigan State career.

For his first three college seasons, Trice looked the part of a Big Ten backup. He'd shoot about 40 percent from 3-point range, average well under 10 points, play a decent number of minutes - but he never looked like too much of a threat at either end of the court.

Maybe it was his fairly slight frame. Or the fact that the Spartans had so many other players who were earning more attention. Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling were the big names on last season's team, and two of them were taken in the first round of the NBA draft.

When Michigan State began this season without those three players, it was clear Trice would need to shoulder more responsibility.

''When you lose guys like A.P., Keith, Gary, having those three adds to the margin for error,'' Trice said. ''Just with this team, the makeup of this team, we're not as deep as last year, and we've got to play every possession and value each possession.''

Coach Tom Izzo said Trice had a terrific offseason - he was healthier than he'd been in the past. Then Trice led Michigan State in shot attempts in three of the team's first four games. He made a decent percentage of them, too.

But the minutes were piling up, and Trice's 3-point percentage sank well below where it had been in the past. He was also struggling with free throws - a team-wide problem that briefly threatened the Spartans' NCAA Tournament hopes.

After a maddening home loss to Illinois, Izzo made the move. Freshman Tum Tum Nairn would start in the backcourt, with Trice coming on as a reserve.

''I thought we wore Trice right down to nothing,'' Izzo said. ''Taking him off the point a little bit helped, because he didn't have to guard the guy, he didn't have to bring the ball up.''

Playing a more manageable 25 minutes, Trice led Michigan State with 16 points in a blowout win at Northwestern. He later had a streak of eight consecutive games in double figures, including five when he reached at least 20 points.

Trice is now averaging a team-high 14.8 points per game. The seventh-seeded Spartans will open the NCAA Tournament on Friday against 10th-seeded Georgia.

If Michigan State makes a run in this tournament it will probably be because of its talented trio of Trice, fellow senior Branden Dawson and junior Denzel Valentine. It can be an emotional time of year for seniors, who know another loss will mark the end of the road at the college level.

''I'm just trying to embrace it - not take it for granted,'' Trice said. ''That's all I'm really trying to do - just embrace this and have a nice run at the end.''

Izzo has watched Trice develop from a role player into one of Michigan State's leaders. It's been a rewarding process for both the coach and the player - one they both hope won't run its course for a few more games, at least.

''He's just been fun to coach. He's been fun to watch, a guy who a lot of people said wasn't good enough to play here,'' Izzo said. ''He's got a chance to still do some pretty neat things here.''

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