Grinz On Green: Spartans Piece Together A Win
Even at less than full strength, MSU finds a way to keep winning.
Jan. 12, 2014
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com On-Line Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The seminar on how to cobble together a victory concluded with Michigan State's 16-4 run in its second overtime period in as many games.
With senior big man Adreian Payne nattily attired in a suit and tie while relegated to the bench because of an injured foot, the fifth-ranked Spartans had to marshal their resources to make up for his missing 16.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and inside-outside versatility in Saturday's 87-75 come-from-behind overtime victory against Minnesota at the Breslin Center.
Compounding Payne's first DNP in 122 career games were the continuity-disrupting illnesses of backup point guard Travis Trice (flu) and center Matt Costello (mononucleosis) and Gary Harris' ongoing effort to regain the fitness level lost while recovering from an offseason ankle injury.
That said, take away any one of the of the following factors: Kenny Kaminski's 15 points off the bench on 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range; Denzel Valentine's nine points, team-high four assists and seven of 10 rebounds after halftime; Branden Dawson's 10 rebounds including two in the extra period and five in the second half; Keith Appling's career-best 15 successful free throws, and...
"We don't win," said Dawson.
Even Trice's 19 minutes of relief, after missing nearly every second of practice leading up to the game, and Costello's seven points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes were vital to MSU stitching together a victory after trailing by 10 points with 15-and-a-half minutes remaining in regulation.
Valentine, who was the target of coach Tom Izzo's ire during Tuesday's 72-68 overtime win against No. 3 Ohio State, said the victory against the Golden Gophers is an example of what even an undermanned MSU can do when everybody else does what they do best as well as they can.
"I'm trying to figure out when to be aggressive and when not to," Valentine said. "It gets me in trouble sometimes and it's good for me sometimes. I'm trying to balance it in the right way right now.
"If coach needs us to step up, we need to answer to the bell. It's kind of hard because we've had guys out and practice hasn't been the same. We've got the players we practice with, and then everybody's playing in the game, even those you haven't practiced with. It's kind of confusing."
Until the Spartans return to full strength, it's in their best interest to become expert at doing more with less, which is what they did to improve to 15-1 and tie MSU's best 16-game start in 19 seasons under Izzo.
"I feel like we're picking up each other's slack and hopefully everybody can get healthy and back on board," Valentine said. "Until then, this says a lot about our team with A.P. being out, and us not playing well at all, and still beating a very tough Minnesota (13-4, 2-2 Big Ten) team."
The Gophers rocked the Spartans back on their heels by making seven of 12 attempts from behind the arc in the first half. Kaminski, a redshirt freshman who upped his personal scoring record for the second straight game, helped keep MSU upright by making all four of his 3-point attempts against Minnesota's zone defense in the first half.
"You can't teach (what Payne) brings," Kaminski said. "He's got length and he's got athleticism, so guys just have to pick things up. I was given the opportunity to play a lot of minutes and do a lot with them. My role was to shoot, spread the floor and give guys lanes.
"I was just confident. Going through warm-ups I just made sure I had everything right with my form and it just carried over to the game."
Harris, who finished with 19 points, made a jump shot with 15:39 to ignite the 15-0 run --Kaminski's fifth consecutive triple before missing cut the deficit to 53-48 - that gave Michigan State its first advantage since leading 17-16 in the first half.
Meantime, Dawson, whose lethargic play against the Buckeyes and in the first half versus the Gophers, has mystified Izzo, had sprung back to life, hauling down rebounds. At one point, he circled to the basket from the right baseline and dunked an alley-oop pass from Valentine for a 62-59 lead.
Minnesota battled back from a six-point deficit in the final 2:31 of regulation and sent the game into overtime on DeAndre Mathieu's driving layup with one second to go. But, Appling kept knocking down free throws and the Spartans had a 6-3 rebounding advantage in overtime to secure the win.
"I was kind of out of it and just didn't seem like myself," Dawson said. "I felt like I let my team down and (at halftime) they just told me, `Hey, we need you.' I just told myself I had to pick it up. I don't know (the reason). I've just been feeling out of it. Hopefully, and I'll get some tests at the lab, it's nothing serious.
"When Adreian Payne went out, Coach said different guys have to step up. "
Although it took the Spartans a while to get on track, they didn't hurt themselves with turnovers. They had only seven against Minnesota, which led the Big Ten with 8.4 steals per game before totaling four against MSU.
"We've got some guys who've got to figure out who they are and what they are," Izzo said. "A good coach should be able to define roles, (but) we've had so many injuries. Like with a Valentine. I don't know what he thinks his role is. Sometimes Zel tries to be something he's not, and man, when he just does his job, he's damn good. I love the kid and I love his work ethic. I don't love his spin-dribble.
"Kaminski responded well, for now. School is just starting, everybody's coming back and we'll see how he does before I can get real excited about everything. He has made some progress. I know what some of our problems are and they're all fixable. I think we showed a little bit of guts to come back."
Moreover, instead of regressing, Michigan State has dug down found ways to keep moving forward.
"Gary's busting his butt and played a lot of minutes, 35, but he's not in that kind of shape yet," Izzo said. "Keith gets in foul trouble again and Travis can't go, so that's just the way it's going to be for a while. There's something wrong with Branden, no question about it. He hasn't been that way for a month. I don't have a good answer for you (why?). We just got to figure it out and get him back.
"So, we're going to have to ham-and-egg it, and tough it out, win ugly, win pretty, win some way. As long as it continues to be a W, we're going to have to live with this until we get everybody back (healthy). I love my team. If everybody is who they are, and we get everybody back, we're going to be real good."
The fact Appling led the Spartans with 24 points wasn't surprising. That he managed fatigue and maintained his shooting touch from the line -- missing only one of 16 free throws -- while going all out for 36 minutes was impressive.
It's a whatever-it-takes mentality that will get MSU through this adverse stretch.
"Everybody on this team has a job to do, and whenever everyone does their job, they look good -- it's as simple as that," Appling said. "Kenny's a shooter and when he makes shots, he looks good. Branden's an offensive rebounder, a high-flier, and when he's doing that, he looks good.
"That's the main thing about it. We just have to continue to do our jobs and as a team, we'll continue to grow."
And, look good in the process.