Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Elite Eight run has been led by upperclassmen

March 28, 2015
<p>Senior guard Travis Trice attempts a point March 27, 2015, during the East Regional round of the NCAA Tournament in a game against Oklahoma at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. The Spartans the Sooners, 62-58. Erin Hampton/The State News</p>

Senior guard Travis Trice attempts a point March 27, 2015, during the East Regional round of the NCAA Tournament in a game against Oklahoma at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. The Spartans the Sooners, 62-58. Erin Hampton/The State News

Photo by Erin Hampton | The State News

A year after losing three key pieces of its puzzle, MSU has clawed its way right back to where its season ended last year.

The Elite Eight.

An improbable yet not infrequent tournament run has been conducted by upperclassmen. Although the Spartans lost Adreian Payne, Keith Appling, and Gary Harris last season, senior guard Travis Trice, senior forward Branden Dawson, and junior guard Denzel Valentine have piloted a late-season surge.

Asked if he thought this was feasible this season, junior forward Matt Costello abruptly answered, “yeah”.

“All summer we brought it up and said ‘Indy’,” Costello said. “Our goal was to get to Indy, and we’re one game away.”

In Friday night’s 62-58 win over Oklahoma, it was Trice and Valentine who sealed the deal down the stretch. The two combined to make 6-of-6 free throws in the game’s final 1:19. Before that, the Spartans were shooting a cringe-worthy 3-for-10 from the line.

Trice, who finished the game perfect from the line, said he was one-track minded.

“To be honest with you, I'm just thinking, knock them down,” Trice said. “I just want to win the game. That's all really.”

Costello said that Trice’s play especially trickled down to the rest of the team.

“It just gives us so much confidence,” Costello said. “ And when he walked up to the line, I wasn’t scared he was gonna miss.”

Dawson was quieted on the offensive end of the floor but he finished the game with 11 rebounds and one of his best blocks of the year at the rim. He hit a short jumper to give MSU its first lead of the game (44-42) with 9:32 left in the game, and defensively, his bucket translated to a rise in intensity. He altered shots and made the driving lane look a lot narrower for the Sooners.

Valentine struggled in the first half, making just 2-of-9 field goals and adding to MSU’s concerns going into the break. He didn't sulk, however, and according to junior guard Bryn Forbes, the halftime conversations were dominated by Izzo and Valentine.

Valentine’s leadership proved to be a spark in the second half for himself and his teammates. He made four of his eight shots, including three three-pointers and the final minute free throws before finishing the game with 18 points.

“I was talking to Travis in the hallway, the first half, I felt like it was my first time playing basketball,” Valentine 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. I'm dreaming, what the heck? I just slapped the ground, and I woke up, I guess.”

So did his team and as a result, MSU is playing for its ninth Final Four berth.

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