Few things in college basketball end January panic within a fanbase more effectively than a win over a Top 10 opponent—especially when that opponent is a conference foe.
The No. 11 Michigan State Spartans were reeling after three straight losses coming into their Saturday showdown with the No. 7 Maryland Terrapins at the Breslin Center, but the Spartans snapped the skid with a 74-65 victory. Denzel Valentine led the way with 19 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, and Matt Costello played a perfect supporting role with 15 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, two steals and a handful of critical plays in the closing moments.
Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports said it looked like the Spartans were back:
Aside from the slime-green jerseys, Michigan State has looked a lot more like its November-December selves tonight.— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) January 24, 2016
As for Maryland, Melo Trimble came to play, garnering 24 points and seven rebounds, but his team shot 29.6 percent from three-point range and lost the rebounding battle, 44-32. The Terrapins offense did not impress Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk:
Maryland doesn't really run any offense. It's a ball-screen/ISO for Melo/Sulaimon or a post touch for Stone/Carter.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) January 24, 2016
Dauster noticed the difference between the two teams on that side of the ball:
Michigan State, on the other hand, runs so many different sets. The contrast is stark.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) January 24, 2016
Michigan State turned heads before the game started with its uniform choice, as Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated passed along:
The green! My eyes! THE GOGGLES DO NOTHING pic.twitter.com/pR3tQA7CxM— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) January 23, 2016
Even with those ugly uniforms, the Spartans controlled the first half and took a 35-29 lead into the locker room. Maryland was fortunate to be down by only six points, considering Michigan State held a 26-19 advantage on the boards and grabbed 11 offensive rebounds in the first half alone.
Rebounding wasn't the only issue with the Terrapins big men, as Josh Stirn of 247Sports noticed:
Need more inside-out action for the #Terps. Besides Carter, Maryland's big men largely black holes inside. Nice assist by Jake Layman.— Josh Stirn (@Josh_Stirn) January 24, 2016
Michigan State kept the lead early in the second half because of hot shooting by Bryn Forbes, who had been in a slump before Saturday. Jeff Borzello of ESPN illustrated the turnaround:
• Bryn Forbes' last 3 games: 5.7 points, 5-22 FG, 3-15 3PT. • Bryn Forbes tonight: 16 points, 5-10 FG, 3-6 3PT.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) January 24, 2016
Stirn offered some advice for the Maryland defense:
Sounds crazy, but might want to put Layman on Valentine and Sulaimon on Forbes. Forbes tough to chase around. Valentine will get his anyway.— Josh Stirn (@Josh_Stirn) January 24, 2016
However, that advantage was short-lived, as Maryland used a quick run to seize a 46-42 lead. In fact, the Terrapins scored on their first eight possessions of the second half, and Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press pointed out another concern for the home team:
Spartans letting the officials take them off their game. Matt Costello screaming at official after no call inside. Now a double tech.— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) January 24, 2016
Valentine put the Spartans on his back in the middle of the second half and gave his team a 50-49 lead at the under-12-minute timeout. The playmaker, who was almost at a triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, impressed Chris Miller of CSNMidAtlantic.com
Is it just me or will Denzel Valentine be a perfect fit at the next level playing with the Spurs. Love his passing in transition— Chris Miller (@cmillscsn) January 24, 2016
ESPN College Basketball shared a noteworthy highlight:
Denzel. Valentine. 👀 https://t.co/8hCYcfKZsZ— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) January 24, 2016
Michigan State continued its spurt to take a seven-point lead, and Stirn acknowledged the difference in the game:
U-8 TO: Terps 53, Michigan State 60. Both teams are 7-21 from three, shooting around 40 percent but Spartans better in transition/2nd chance— Josh Stirn (@Josh_Stirn) January 24, 2016
Trimble kept the Terrapins within striking distance, but Valentine and Costello had an answer almost every time. Mike Wilson of 247Sports praised the Spartans big man late in the second half:
Matt Costello is having himself a night in a game it wasn't sure he would play in much. Big, big night for the senior.— Mike Wilson (@MikeWilson247) January 24, 2016
Costello's presence was important with Michigan State ahead, 66-61, with less than three minutes remaining because Kenny Goins was struggling, as Eisenberg realized:
Denzel Valentine might have five more assists tonight if Kenny Goins could go up strong and finish around the rim.— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) January 24, 2016
Maryland climbed to within three, but Eron Harris drilled two clutch free throws with fewer than than 80 seconds left. The Terrapins hit two free throws of their own, but Costello grabbed the most important offensive rebound of the game with 25 seconds remaining to keep the possession alive and help his team extend its lead to five again after two free throws.
Jeff Goodman of ESPN weighed in on the development:
Matt Costello has played one heck of a game tonight. Has a chance — along w/Denzel — to win more games than any other Michigan State player.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) January 24, 2016
From there, Costello grabbed another rebound on the defensive side and hit two free throws to help clinch the 74-65 victory.
Michigan State snapped its three-game losing streak and has a golden opportunity to make up some ground in the Big Ten in the upcoming stretch against unranked Northwestern, Rutgers and Michigan before critical contests against Purdue and Indiana.
The Spartans were four games behind the Indiana Hoosiers and Iowa Hawkeyes in the loss column coming into Saturday and need to take advantage of those winnable games.
As for the Terrapins, it doesn't get much easier with a Thursday showdown against No. 9 Iowa before a two-game road trip against Ohio State and Nebraska. While they already destroyed the Buckeyes once this season, they can ill afford many more losses in the league after dropping their second conference game Saturday.
However, a head-to-head victory over the Hawkeyes would put Maryland back in the Big Ten race.
One person who was particularly pleased with the win was Costello, given his celebration, which Sean Merriman of BTN.com shared:
Izzo reacted to the hug, per Hamilton: “I could use a ride every once in a while. It's not all bad.”
The Spartan head coach was also pleased with his team’s overall effort, per Wilson: “I thought that was the hardest we played in years. We needed that kinda effort.”
Izzo also praised Costello, who dealt with a sprained ankle before the game, per Wilson: “Costello, I think I’m just joining Allen Iverson, who needs practice? He didn’t practice for three days.”
The Michigan State coach even weighed in on the bright green jerseys, per Rexrode: “I know they’re crazy but 17 year olds like them. Right now I like 17 year olds more than 80 year olds.”
Recruits may have seen the jerseys, but the whole country will take notice if the Spartans continue to play the way they did Saturday down the stretch.