No. 1 Michigan State bounces back to beat Minnesota 69-61
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Injured Michigan State star Denzel Valentine could only watch from the bench as the top-ranked Spartans staved off a challenge from Minnesota.
Valentine still might have made the most meaningful contribution of the afternoon in the locker room afterward, giving beloved coach Tom Izzo the game ball in honor of his late father.
Bryn Forbes scored 20 points, making three 3-pointers in the second half to help the Spartans beat the Gophers 69-61 on Saturday in response to a loss at Iowa earlier in a week that began with the death of 90-year-old Carl Izzo.
Matt Costello contributed 17 points and 15 rebounds, both career highs, for the Spartans (14-1, 1-1) four days after they fell 78-63 to the Hawkeyes in their Big Ten opener to make their No. 1 billing short-lived.
''We're still nowhere near the team that we need to be or I think we'll be,'' Izzo said.
They showed plenty of resilience, though, against the Gophers (6-8, 0-2) while Valentine, recovering from minor knee surgery, missed his third straight game.
Freshman Deyonta Davis added 10 points and four rebounds to supplement the superb low-post effort by Costello and Gavin Schilling, who was in the starting lineup for the first time.
''They basically won the game for us,'' Forbes said.
Then Valentine initiated the game-ball presentation to Izzo that would have taken place at Iowa had the Spartans won there.
''It was tough to come up with some words, but I just talked from my heart,'' the preseason All-Big Ten pick said.
Nate Mason scored 16 points, Jordan Murphy had 14 points and nine rebounds and Kevin Dorsey added 11 points for the Gophers, who were within 63-60 with 2:14 left and Dorsey at the foul line. He only made one of two, though, and Davis made a soft hook on the other end before blocking Murphy's shot.
''Their front line's still unbelievable without Valentine. I can only imagine what it's like with Valentine,'' Murphy said, adding: ''That was some of the best basketball we've played yet. We grew up a lot during that game.''
Given the fact the Gophers have led by more than two points at halftime just three times in 15 games, plus the caliber and mindset of this opponent, this was by far their best game of the season.
Looking a lot more organized and inspired than the team that lost at home last month to mid-major foes South Dakota, South Dakota State and Milwaukee, Minnesota confidently matched Michigan State basket for basket for the majority of the game.
Dorsey swished a 3-pointer from the corner off an inbounds play with 0.7 seconds left to cut Michigan State's lead to 32-29 at halftime. There were pushes in the second half, too, only to be thwarted by a clutch 3-pointer by Forbes or a big basket by Davis.
''We showed some fight, obviously, but a couple looks just didn't go our way,'' Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.
The Spartans took a special trip to North Texas between games this week, watching former Michigan State star Draymond Green play for the Golden State Warriors against the Dallas Mavericks before taking in the football team's lopsided loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal game. They spent the down time analyzing video and, of course, practicing.
''It was a great team builder. I think it was a memory maker for them,'' Izzo said.
Maybe the Spartans will look back on this week sometime in March or April, realizing it helped steer them straight.
''It's hard to say it's a big win, because I shouldn't be looking at it that way, but it is right now. We're reeling a little bit as you can tell,'' Izzo said. ''We're just trying to shuffle guys around, and we're not very fluid right now. We are missing a hell of a player. I don't care if it's an excuse or not. He does so many things for us.''
The Spartans have won 20 of the last 24 games between these teams. This was the first game at Minnesota in the series since Dec. 31, 2012, the only win by the Gophers at home over Michigan State in the last 10 years.
Michigan State: Davis made all four of his field goals. He's a 66.3-percent shooter, the best on the team among players with 20 or more attempts.
Minnesota: Murphy missed all four of his free throws, dropping his average to a team-worst 56.8 percent. He went 7 for 18 from the field.
Michigan State hosts Illinois on Thursday.
Minnesota plays at Penn State on Tuesday.