Ark.-Pine Bluff-Michigan St. Preview
Denzel Valentine believes the tough love coach Tom Izzo has shown him throughout his time at Michigan State has made the talented yet sometimes erratic senior a better player.
The two bickered as Valentine produced one of the best performances in program history in an early season marquee matchup, and it won't be surprising if they do so again Friday night when Arkansas-Pine Bluff visits the Breslin Center.
Valentine finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists in Tuesday's 79-73 win over No. 4 Kansas in Chicago, helping the 13th-ranked Spartans rally from 11 down with less than 10 minutes to go.
Possibly the most impressive stat was Valentine's one turnover in 38 minutes. He had three in 10 fewer minutes in last Friday's season-opening win over Florida Atlantic and tied for the third-most giveaways in the Big Ten last season with 92.
Valentine's shot selection hasn't always been the greatest, either.
''There's a million things that he's not good enough at,” Izzo said, “but winning is something he is good enough at, work ethic is something he's good enough at and basketball IQ is something he's good enough at.”
Valentine became the fourth player in Michigan State history to record a triple-double, joining Magic Johnson, Charlie Bell and Draymond Green. His effort prompted a phone call from Johnson to congratulate Valentine.
''I didn't know when it was going to come and I didn't think it was going to come on this stage, this early, but credit to my teammates,'' Valentine said. ''They played a hell of a game. It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done.''
Valentine was correct to defer some of the praise. Bryn Forbes scored 13 points, and Matt Costello added 10 and solid defense down low against Kansas' front line with Gavin Schilling (toe) and Marvin Clark (foot) out indefinitely.
Freshman Matt McQuaid hit all three of his 3-point attempts off the bench, including two in the final four minutes and a huge block at the other end.
Michigan State now returns home for two games before heading to California for the Wooden Legacy tournament over Thanksgiving.
“Coming off a win like that, our fans are going to be hyped up because they've seen what our capabilities are,” Valentine said. “We've got to bring it and give them what they want.”
Valentine had eight points on 3-of-6 shooting with six rebounds and eight assists in an 85-52 win over Pine Bluff (1-1) on Dec. 6. UAPB shot 30.9 percent from the field while hitting 6 of 24 from 3-point range, but Izzo expects the Golden Lions to fire away again.
Pine Bluff attempted 30 3-pointers in a win over Seattle last Friday before going 7 of 17 in Monday's 86-72 loss to Oklahoma State. JoVaughn Love scored a game-high 21 points for UAPB, which was within seven with 5:23 remaining before the Cowboys pulled away.
“Pine Bluff is a team that's different than last year,” Izzo said. “They're bigger and they still shoot it. They take shots from everywhere. They play almost all zone and we've faced very little zone. We're going to have to move the ball without turning it over.”
UAPB is playing its first 17 games on the road before facing Southern on Jan. 16.