Thursday, September 24, 2020

Great moments in MSU sports history: Denzel Valentine and the 2016 Big Ten championship

March 26, 2020
Then-senior guard Travis Trice gets hit by another player Mar. 4, 2015, during the game against Purdue at Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Boilermakers, 72-66. Photo by Emily Nagle. Design by Daena Faustino.
Then-senior guard Travis Trice gets hit by another player Mar. 4, 2015, during the game against Purdue at Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Boilermakers, 72-66. Photo by Emily Nagle. Design by Daena Faustino. —

Michigan State has canceled all sports activities as our community deals with the COVID-19 crisis. In a time when sports have ceased, The State News is looking back at great moments in Michigan State sports history. Soon, we’ll be back to a world with sports, but for now, the past will have to do.

Today, we’ll be going back to 2016, when MSU men’s basketball clinched their fifth Big Ten tournament title with a win over Purdue. 

We’ll be compiling these moments into a bracket with the MSU community voting on the best one, starting on April 1, via Twitter.

Date: March 13, 2016

Venue: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana

Matchup: No. 2 Michigan State (2-seed in Big Ten) vs. No. 13 Purdue (4-seed in Big Ten)

The background: The stage was set for a record-breaking season for Michigan State with senior Denzel Valentine leading the Spartans through 15 straight wins start to their season, arguably the best start in school history. That was, until injuries plagued the squad. 

Valentine suffered a knee injury in late December that put him on the bench for four games. Upon his return, the Spartans struggled, their season taking a polar opposite turn from where it started, losing four of their first seven conference games. The Spartans picked things back up later to end with 13-5 conference record, good for second in the Big Ten. 

A two-seed in the Big Ten tournament, the Spartans looked to claim the title that they dropped the year before to Wisconsin in the championship. MSU defeated Ohio State and Maryland in the conference tourney to put them back in the title game for the third straight year.

Earlier that season the Spartans lost to Purdue 82-81 in overtime on the road. The Boilermakers were led by senior shooter Vincent Edwards.

The game: After a physical first half battle, MSU’s depth on the bench proved the leg up that gave then a 10-point lead at halftime. Six of the seven Spartan players who came off the bench put points on the board for the green and white, playing a huge factor as Valentine was the only Spartan to record points in the double digits at 15. 

Valentine recorded nine assists on the night, several of which came in critical moments. To open the second half, Valentine found Deyonta Davis for an alley-oop dunk to shut down Purdue’s fresh energy.

With just over seven minutes remaining, Purdue's A.J. Hammons found a pass under the hoop to slam down a dunk that brought the Boilermakers back within one.

On the next possession, Valentine put up a three, from where he went three for six on the night, in an effort to pull his team away but it missed. Out of nowhere he found himself under the basket, snatched his own rebound, passed back and assisted a three by Bryn Forbes.

Michigan State outrebounded Purdue 41-31 and their defense held the Boilermakers 16 points below their season average of 78.2. They also edged the Boilermakers on shooting, draining 48.3% of their FG attempts compared to Purdue’s 40.9%.

As expected, Purdue’s Vince Edwards led his team scoring a game-high 19 points that was accented by A.J. Hammons and Caleb Swanigan’s 11. A two-point game with 20 seconds remaining, Purdue made a questionable layup attempt through a crowded lane that the Spartans didn't let fall. The Spartans took their fifth Big Ten tournament championship with the 66-62 victory.

The aftermath: Understandably, this game often gets forgotten as Spartan fans pushed this season to the dust thanks to the nightmare that followed. MSU entered the NCAA tournament as a 2-seed in the Midwest bracket but found themselves shell-shocked after a devastating first round upset loss to 15-seeded Middle Tennessee State. The loss stripped away the chances of Valentine’s goal of making a deep tournament run, however he still went down as one of the greatest Spartans.

Valentine finished his senior season as the USA Today National Player of the Year and the Big Ten Player of the Year. He was also named the Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten tournament. He was then drafted by the Chicago Bulls as the 14th overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft.

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