March 20, 2014
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
SPOKANE, Wash. - Travis Trice was Michigan State's unsung hero of the Big Ten Tournament with 26 points, nine assists and zero turnovers in three games.
The junior back-up point guard was a "sung" hero in the Spartans' NCAA Tournament-opening 93-78 victory against Delaware on Thursday at the Spokane Arena.
Trice continued to make the case that he's playing the best basketball of his career by scoring 19 points on 7-for-8 shooting from the field and 3-for-4 accuracy from 3-point range.
"My mindset really was just come in and do whatever the team needs me to do," Trice said.
On this day, the Spartans needed Trice to fill in the gaps because even though power forward Adreian Payne was setting a school-tournament record with 41 points, team scoring leader Gary Harris had a quiet 10 points and starting point guard Keith Appling finished with four.
Trice provided another indication that even if a defense succeeds at shutting down one or two of MSU's most productive players, there are others capable of breaking loose.
"Travis has been really good," said coach Tom Izzo. "He's been good in practice, he's making shots and it's been more than just the Big Ten Tournament. I think he was Sixth Man of the Year (Award)-worthy.
"He knows he's going in three or four minutes into the game, and he's a better defender that people give him credit for. He is playing very well."
GoG NOTES & QUOTES: Payne's accomplishment meant even more to him because of the impact he was sure it made on his biggest fan, Lacey Holsworth, an 8-year-old who's waging a life-and-death battle with childhood cancer.
"I talked to Lacey and her parents yesterday, and it's hard," Payne said, who was 13 when his mother died. "It's like having a family member that's really sick. The only thing you can do is just play basketball when you can't be there with them. Just knowing that when I play well it makes her happy, it feels like I'm doing something in a way to help her feel better."
The next Spartan who's due to break through, a la Trice, is Denzel Valentine, who's been hot and cold as a scorer due to foul issues.
All three of his points against Delaware came on a 3-point field goal, and all three in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game against Michigan, came from the free-throw line.
At one point in Thursday's game, Izzo had what was depicted in the postgame press conference as a teaching moment with some of his players on the bench, including Valentine.
"That's a polite way of saying I was chewing somebody out," Izzo said. "Teaching? Yeah, that sounds better. Moms like that better. But, we made some ridiculous plays. Zel did some things he hasn't done all year. He's been my most consistent player night in and night out by far, and he was uncharacteristically (ineffective). I don't know if it was the two early fouls that kind of knocked him out."
Izzo won his 40th NCAA tournament game and is 40-15 overall. ... Appling became MSU's 18th player to score 1,500 points. ... Payne is the first player to score 40 points in a tournament game since Davidson's Stephen Curry did it against Gonzaga in the first round in 2008. ... MSU has had at least a 10-0 run in 18 games this season and the Spartans are 8-1 on neutral courts.