MSU basketball bands together, overcomes double-digit deficit to beat Oakland
For much of the No. 1 MSU basketball teams's 99-93 overtime victory against Oakland Tuesday night, the Golden Grizzlies had the Spartans right where they wanted them.
However, much like they've done so many times this season, this time without their star senior guard Denzel Valentine, the Spartans came together, as they overcame a double-digit deficit to defeat Oakland in overtime and improve to 13-0 on the season, the best start in program history.
But Tuesday night's contest would prove to be MSU's hardest fought victory of the season.
The Grizzlies jumped out to a 27-13 lead within the first ten minutes of the game. And junior Oakland guard Kay Felder was unguardable. Felder finished with 21 points and 7 assists in the first half, helping the Grizzlies to a 50-37 lead at the half.
And even though the Spartans would eventually come back to win the game, many members of the team were upset with how embarrassing the 50 points given up in the first half were.
"We have a lot to learn," senior forward Matt Costello said. "That first half we absolutely sucked in every facet of the game. But we found a way to pull it together and do it without our leader."
Felder played 43 minutes in Tuesday's game and when things were all said and done, finished with 37 points and nine assists.
"He's a great player," Lourawls 'Tum Tum' Nairn Jr. said. "He's a really great player and I'm a great defensive player. I felt the first half I gave him too much respect. I kind of played back off him but the second half I did a better job coming up into him."
Much of the second half saw the Spartans slowly and steadily climb their way back into the game.
With Valentine out with the knee injury, much of that comeback was made possible by two players - senior guard Bryn Forbes and junior guard Eron Harris. Forbes finished with 32 points on the night, while Harris wound up with 27 points, five rebounds and five assists.
"It says we've got a lot of different weapons," Harris said. "It says we're deep. The media on TV, they were counting us out. ... We just got together and said 'we're not listening to that.' We're a deep team and we went out there and did everything that we needed to do to get the win."
Forbes hit a 3-pointer with 9:21 to go in regulation, which put MSU on top, 63-61, its first lead since since it was 6-5 in the first half. The comeback was complete, but things were far from over.
From there, MSU had its chances to pull away, going up by as much as six in the game's waning moments, but Felder wouldn't go away. The superstar guard hit a 3-pointer in the corner to cut MSU's lead to one - 82-81, with 21 seconds to go. And after Costello split a pair of free throws on the other end, Felder drove to the hole, was fouled and hit both free throws to effectively send the game to overtime, tied at 83.
"That kid is a hell of a player," MSU head basketball coach Tom Izzo said of Felder. "I'd vote for him for a lot of things right now. I thought he did it off the dribble. I thought he did it from deep. I thought he took it to the hole. I thought he was pretty solid defensively ... big, big fan of his."
Things went back-and-forth for much of the first four minutes of overtime, and it seemed a foul was being called on every possession. In total, 90 free throws were shot between the two teams Tuesday night. Oakland was 39-48 from the line while MSU finished 29-of-42. There were more fouls called in the game (62) than field goals made (53).
But it was another Forbes 3-pointer with 44 seconds left, which put MSU up by five, 96-91. The shot proved to be the dagger, as MSU would go on to win the game, 99-93.
"We wanted to win it for (Denzel Valentine)," Nairn said. "We wanted to win it for the history, the record. We just wanted to win it for ourselves. You know, credit to (Oakland). They were a tough game. It was a tough team and we're just glad we came out with a win."
For Izzo, while he was certainly less than thrilled with the overall play of his team against Oakland, he did acknowledge and appreciate the fact they were able to push through for the victory without Valentine.
"We grew this week," Izzo said. "We learned how to play without our superstar and our superstar, I'm not saying he's the best player in the country. I'm not saying he's not but he might be the most versatile player in the country so we had to adjust every single angle of our game."
And as for the 13-0 start, it's great, Costello said, but there's a long way to go on the season.
"It's a huge goal," Costello said. "And we accomplished one of our goals, but again, it matters in April."
MSU opens up Big Ten play at Iowa on Dec. 29.