Denzel Valentine knew his Michigan State Spartans would need a big game from him if they were going to topple No. 4 Kansas in the Champions Classic in Chicago on Tuesday, and boy, did he deliver.
Valentine finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists in a 79-73 win, becoming just the fourth player in program history to record a triple-double. The other three? Magic Johnson, Draymond Green and Charlie Bell.
“Credit my teammates,” Valentine said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “They made plays when we needed to. They never stopped believing in me. Even when we were down, they kept it positive with me and helped me out throughout the game.”
Kansas led by 13 points in the first half and by 11 with 9:42 left in the second. Michigan State, however, wouldn’t go quietly. The Spartans went on a 12-1 run to tie the game at 62, as Valentine scored 21 of his 29 points in the second half.
“I just kind of played free,” Valentine said. “Coach (Tom Izzo) allowed me to do that. He put the ball in my hands and put me in places where I (can) be successful. Credit to him and credit to my teammates for setting picks and knocking down shots and playing defense for us.”
The Spartans also got big performances from forward Matt Costello, who finished with 10 points, nine rebounds, two assists and a block, and reserve guard Matt McQuaid, who was 3-of-3 from downtown.
“(Costello) was huge,” Valentine said. “He’s bene working all summer, all preseason. I’m glad he had a great game. He’s been our go-to guy in the post and he came to play tonight and help us win. (McQuaid) had some big-time shots. Who would ever think as a freshman you would come in and knock (down) two big, big, big, big-time three-point shots in the clutch in the second half? That’s huge for him and it says a lot about his character. I’m just happy he did that for us.”
No. 13 Michigan State (2-0) blocked eight shots Tuesday and now has 20 blocks through two games.
“We played Michigan State defense,” Valentine said. “That’s toughness, playing with passion and trying to win the game. We showed that throughout the second half. When things wasn’t going right or when it was winning time, we made plays and we got the win.”
The Spartans’ win followed a top-five matchup between No. 2 Kentucky and No. 4 Duke, which the Wildcats won, 74-63. Michigan State’s down-to-the-wire win was an exciting way to cap the evening.
“It was an incredible game, incredible atmosphere,” Valentine said. “All the fans, all the top programs in the nation, Hall of Fame coaches, great players, NBA prospects – it was the whole nine. So it was a great opportunity for us to get a win, and I’m glad we got the win.”