All season long, Michigan State has leaned on Denzel Valentine to deliver in big moments. Each time, the senior star responded brilliantly.
Sunday was no different, as Valentine nearly recorded a triple-double as the Spartans sweated out a 66-62 win over Purdue to take the 2016 Big Ten championship at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports pointed out the strength of Michigan State's sports programs:
Michigan State about to finish both the football & basketball regular seasons in the Top 4.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) March 13, 2016
Sunday's victory clinched Michigan State's fifth conference tournament title since Tom Izzo took over as head coach in 1995. The Spartans have won the Big Ten tournament in three of the last five years and two of the last three, which is their largest extended run of success under Izzo.
Michigan State's performance led Patrick Reusse of 1500 ESPN to offer this opinion:
Tom Izzo is a better coach than Richard Pitino. There ... I said it.— Patrick Reusse (@1500ESPN_Reusse) March 13, 2016
Valentine finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine rebounds. He knocked down three three-pointers and was true on a clutch shot down the stretch. With Purdue making a run and trimming its deficit to one point, 62-61, Valentine pulled up for a double-clutch two from mid-range and knocked it down with one minute, 48 seconds remaining. It was the last made basket of the game, as the sides traded stops and free throws the rest of the way.
Danny Chau of The Ringer chimed in to compliment Valentine:
Denzel Valentine plays bigger than he is. Partially bc of his wingspan, but mostly bc he wears a number typically reserved for very big men.— Danny Chau (@dannychau) March 13, 2016
The two sides slogged through a largely ugly game overall. Michigan State won despite shooting 41.7 percent overall and having only one player (Valentine) in double figures. Each of the five starters scored at least six points, but it was an ugly day from the field for some other contributors. Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris each shot 2-of-8 from the field, while Gavin Schilling and Marvin Clark Jr. combined to shoot 2-of-9.
The Spartans held Purdue to 38.2 percent shooting, including a 3-of-15 clip from beyond the arc. Vince Edwards, in a bit of confusing aggression, made just six of his 18 shots and struggled throughout. The sophomore forward jacked up six three-pointers and missed them all, the first time in five games he hasn't knocked down multiple shots from distance.
Gold and Black nonetheless thought Edwards performed well overall throughout the week.
Vince Edwards has been tremendous in this tournament.— GoldandBlack.com (@GoldandBlackcom) March 13, 2016
Edwards did finish with a game-high 19 points, thanks in large part to his seven made free throws. Purdue stayed in the game by forcing its way to the free-throw line, earning a 21-9 advantage on the charity stripe. Caleb Swanigan (11 points, five rebounds) and A.J. Hammons (11 points, nine rebounds) were also in double figures for the Boilermakers.
The win locked up a No. 2 seed for Michigan State, a strong turnaround given its midseason turmoils. Less than two months ago, the Spartans dropped a 72-71 home game against Nebraska for their third straight loss. They were 3-4 in the conference at that time and appeared closer to being outside the Top 25 than the nation's top team. Now, they're one of a handful of favorites for the national championship. They finished with 13 wins in their last 14 games, including the three straight they took in Indianapolis.
As for Purdue, ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi projected the Boilermakers as a No. 4 seed at the moment. Head coach Matt Painter hasn't led a team past the first weekend of the tournament since 2010, so this should be his best opportunity to find some tournament success. Given how close Coach Painter's team played Michigan State despite miserable shooting, the Boilermakers should have a good shot.
Valentine is confident in the Spartans' chances at making a title push, per ESPN.com: "If we come to play, I think we can beat any team in the country."
Painter was proud of his team: "We had a good fight to us today. We had some plays there at the end where were attacking the rim, doing some good things and it just didn't go our way."