MSU out muscles Florida in an old school battle
Toughness and grit. Those are the founding principals MSU men's basketball coach Tom Izzo brought to MSU back when he began as head coach in 1995, and probably best displayed by MSU's 2000 national championship team.
The toughness and grit might not have been on quite the same level as the 2000 team Saturday night, as undefeated No.1 ranked MSU improved to 11-0 on the season with a 58-52 victory, but these new Spartans showed signs of it, with the 2000 team in attendance being honored at halftime.
"It was (an old school win), I'm not sure Mo Pete (Morris Peterson) would have missed some of those wide open (shots), but It was a knock-down, drag-out, very physical game," Izzo said.
MSU didn't do anything flashy against Florida, no stats will pop off the page for MSU, but the hustle plays, the ferocity with which MSU attacked the boards and the defense, which held Florida's leading scorer, senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith to three second half points, that led MSU to this victory.
Izzo said after the game senior guard Bryn Forbes, who shot 1-7 from beyond the three point arc, was his most valuable player of the game because of the toughness and hustle plays he made throughout the game.
Forbes, who finished the game with 12 points and a season high six rebounds and several hustle plays that won't show up in the stat sheet, such as diving for loose balls, said he just wants to win.
"This year, I'm just trying to do anything to win," Forbes said. "I don't think we're overthinking being number one, but I'd love to stay number one, so I'm going to do whatever it takes to win.
"It was more fun than any other win we've gotten because we really left everything out on the court," Forbes said. "Every game you try and do that, but tonight we had no choice."
MSU used an 8-2 run to open the second half to take an eight point lead at 35-27 but, with each team shooting under 40 percent, the lead felt larger.
But when Florida's sophomore reserve guard Chris Chiozza came into the game in the second half and scored 11 points, including three threes in a four minute stretch, to tie the game at 38 MSU didn't flinch.
The two teams traded blows, until Florida took their first lead of the game, 45-44 with 9:27 to play, from their it was all MSU as they used a 14-7 run to win the game.
Even with their captain and leader, senior forward Denzel Valentine struggling all game with 17 points on just 5-17 shooting, and even sitting out for an almost four-minute stretch in the second half after Florida tied the game at 38, the rest of the team found a way to grind out the victory with their defense.
"It shows that guys can step up and it doesn't have to be one player," Valentine said. "I'm not saying that I'm doing everything for the team every game , because I'm not. It's always a team effort, it's a team sport, I'm not out there by myself. But for guys to step up when I'm having an off night, it's huge."
Forbes said before the game the 2000 team visited the locker room and they watched a video sort of comparing the current team to that 2000 team.
"It was fun man," Forbes said of having the 2000 championship team at the game. "They came in (the locker room) before the game, and were here for all the pregame stuff. So I'm excited to talk to them after this."
So while MSU's performance Saturday might not have been a mirror image of the 2000 team's tenacity on the court, the Spartans showed signs that they could build to that level.