Sunday, March 13, 2016

Michigan State Spartans: Big Ten Men's Basketball Champions



INDIANAPOLIS -- Michigan State has won its warm-up tournament thanks to a critical late shot by its national player of the year candidate, and can now at last prepare to take its shot at the title that means the most.

The Spartans beat Purdue on Sunday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 66-62, to claim their second Big Ten conference tournament championship in three years.

Michigan State will now immediately find out its draw in the NCAA Tournament, when the field is announced starting at 5:30 p.m. on CBS.

The Spartans entered the day projected as a No. 1 seed in the tournament, and is expected to hold on to that seeding after winning three games in three days to take the Big Ten title.

The Spartans head into that tournament overflowing with momentum. They've lost just once since Jan. 20, having won 13 of their last 14 games. They picked up plenty of recognition along the way as a national title favorite.

Michigan State led for the entire second half Sunday, but Purdue pulled within one point with 2:48 left.

Denzel Valentine then hit a contested, double-pump midrange jumper with 1:47 left to send Spartans fans into a frenzy. Michigan State held on through the finish, as Matt Costello missed a key free throw but then atoned for the miss with a block on the other end.

While Valentine hit the key late shot, Michigan State relied on its depth as much as it has all season, especially early in the game.

After Purdue led for most of the first 13 minutes, Michigan State retook the lead with a nine-point run primarily with an unlikely lineup on the floor: Tum Tum Nairn, Alvin Ellis, Eron Harris, Gavin Schilling and Colby Wollenman.

After Harris hit two free throws, Nairn found Schilling for a transition alley-oop, then Wolleman scored a layup over Swanigan to force a Purdue timeout. Ellis made consecutive baskets later in the half to send the Spartans into the break with a 36-26 lead.

In all, eight Michigan State players scored in the first half.

Purdue fought back to within one point in the second half, at 52-51 with 7:47 left, after a seven-point run capped off by an A.J. Hammons dunk.

From there, Michigan State went on a tournament-clinching run, started by its key players but finished off by a reserve.

Michigan State scored on four straight possessions to retake a seven-point lead. Valentine assisted the first two baskets, a Bryn Forbes 3-pointer and a Matt Costello running layup.

Wollenman recorded an assist on an Eron Harris 3-pointer, then notched perhaps the most improbable basket of Michigan State's season: a putback dunk off of a missed Costello 3-pointer that put the Spartans up 62-55 with 5:08 left. And the Spartans held on to the lead.

Valentine finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. He was the only Michigan State player in double figures.

HIGHLIGHTS
• Purdue came into the game having shot 50 percent or better from the floor in its last six games, a stat that had helped the Boilermakers win five straight games. A night after the Spartans held Maryland without a field goal for a 10-minute straight late in the game, it held Purdue to 38.2 percent shooting with another stretch of tough defense.

• An afterthought for most of the season, Alvin Ellis capped off a strong Big Ten tournament with his best outing yet. He scored six points against Maryland in the tournament semifinals, and followed that up with five points Sunday in extended minutes. His two late first-half buckets helped the Spartans head into halftime with momentum.

• The tournament final pitted the top two rebounding teams in the Big Ten, and Michigan State came away with a decisive victory in the category. The Spartans won that battle, 41-31, and had 14 second-chance points compared to four for Purdue.

LOWLIGHTS
• Bryn Forbes capped off a quiet Big Ten tournament with a 1-for-6 effort from 3-point range, and had nine points. He was guarded largely by Rapheal Davis, one of the conference's premiere defenders, but also turned down shots he typically takes. He opened the second half by missing a wide open 3-pointer on a set play for him.

• Michigan State started the game 4-for-15 from the field and allowed Purdue to jump ahead to a four-point lead on multiple occasions. As was the case in the two teams' regular season matchup, Michigan State struggled to finish underneath against Purdue's frontcourt, which features a pair of 7-foot centers plus 6-foot-9 Caleb Swanigan.

• Michigan State's heavy reliance on its reserve frontcourt players in the first half was in large part due to Deyonta Davis picking up two fouls before the midway point of the first half. He had to sit the rest of the half.

NOTES
• Michigan State has now won five Big Ten tournaments championships, including three since 2012. Its total is now one more than Ohio State, which also entered the tournament with four Big Ten tournament titles.
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