EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Denzel Valentine’s game-winning 3-pointer felt almost scripted, it being Feb. 14 and all.
That’s not why Michigan State gave him the ball, of course. Valentine was his team’s top perimeter threat all day, and with time running out in yet another tight game, the Spartans were more than happy to see the junior setting up for an open shot from beyond the arc.
“Most of the time he’s taking the shot, and it’s not up for debate anymore,” coach Tom Izzo said. “He’s got the size and he’s got the skill.”
Valentine’s shot with 3.2 seconds remaining gave Michigan State a 59-56 victory over No. 23 Ohio State on Saturday, lifting the Spartans to a significant win as they try to secure an NCAA tournament berth. Sam Thompson had made a 3-pointer of his own for the Buckeyes, tying the game with 36 seconds left, but Michigan State patiently ran the clock down, and Valentine had room to shoot from to the right of the top of the key.
“I was ready to hit the shot,” Valentine said. “I didn’t want to go into another overtime.”
Michigan State has gone to overtime five times this season, losing three of those games.
The Buckeyes (19-7, 8-5 Big Ten) rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit, and even after Valentine’s big shot, Ohio State had a chance to send the game to overtime, but the Buckeyes lost the ball on the ensuing inbound pass.
Valentine finished with 17 points, going 5 of 9 from beyond the arc. Branden Dawson had 15 points and 11 rebounds for Michigan State.
“Give Valentine credit — that was an incredible shot,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “I thought we had them right where we wanted them in terms of how the action developed.”
Shannon Scott scored 15 points for the Buckeyes. Thompson, D’Angelo Russell and Jae’Sean Tate added 10 apiece.
Freshman Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn played 36 minutes for Michigan State, scoring seven points with five rebounds and four assists — including the pass to set up Valentine’s winning shot. The Spartans went on a 15-2 run to close the first half, with Dawson punctuating that impressive stretch with a dunk off a pass from Travis Trice.
It was 33-24 at halftime. The Buckeyes began closing the gap in earnest toward the middle of the second half, tying it at 46 on a dunk by Thompson and taking a 49-47 lead on a jumper by Scott with 5:22 remaining.
Valentine’s 3-pointer with 4:00 to play put the Spartans up by one, and a layup by Trice with 1:16 left gave Michigan State a 56-53 lead. Tate missed a 3 at the other end, but the Spartans (17-8, 8-4) couldn’t secure the rebound. Thompson tied it with his first 3-pointer of the game.
Michigan State beat a Top 25 team for the first time in five tries this season. The Spartans lost by five to Kansas and in double overtime to Maryland, but this victory will certainly help their resume.
“I’m not going to beg for an NCAA bid,” Izzo said. “I’m going to let our team do its talking.”
Neither team was called for a foul until there was 8:06 remaining in the first half — an odd start for a big game between two rivals. Maybe it was for the best that nobody went to shoot free throws for a while. Ohio State finished 5 of 13 from the line and Michigan State wasn’t much better at 4 of 7.