Down by 16 points nine minutes in, it seemed Maryland had picked up just where they had left off back in mid-January when the Terrapins had easily handled the Spartans in College Park. Down 23-9 with 10 minutes to play in the first half, the Spartans got a break when Dez Wells picked up his second foul, and the Spartans took advantage as over the next five minutes MSU cut the Maryland lead down to only 5. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon was forced to bring Wells back into the game and risk a possible third foul, but Wells never fouled, and Turgeon smartly switched Wells on and off the court, and the move worked out for the Terrapins as they took an 8-point lead into the half.
What changed in the second half?
In the first half, Maryland shut down Spartan ball movement, and especially passes in and out of the post, stopped the Spartans from getting transition opportunities, and sped up the Spartans decision making which forced 9 first half turnovers. Only three Michigan State players scored in the first half, Travis Trice, who scored 13, Branden Dawson who scored 9, and Bryn Forbes hit a three.
In the second half, despite the Maryland size advantage, MSU continued to work the ball into the post which opened up offensive opportunities for the Spartans. Matt Costello scored 10 second half points, the Spartans got two big Marvin Clark Jr. slam dunks, 4 points from Gavin Schilling--who despite struggling kept attacking, and more from Trice, with 7 points, and Dawson, with 8 points.
Toughness, both physically and mentally, and outstanding team defense truly led the way for the Spartans. Maryland opened up by hitting 6 of their first 7 shots before the first TV timeout. Melo Trimble started on fire by hitting the first five shots he took, but from there, the Spartans held Maryland to only 12 of 41 from the field (29%) up until there were under 20 seconds to play, and the Spartan defense clamped down on Trimble who missed his next 9 shots.
The Spartans' physical play especially got under the skin of Evan Smotrycz and Dez Wells. A frustrated Smotrycz eventually committed a flagrant foul of Gavin Schilling on a fast break, and Wells, who was held to only 8 shots and 10 points, showed his frustration through his body language and eventually by blowing his top after a foul-block, which may not have been a foul, on a Tum Tum Nairn breakaway lay-up attempt.
Keys to the Win over Maryland
Travis Trice was very strong throughout the game, leading the Spartan scorers with 20 points on 7 of 13 from the field. Trice's scoring kept the Spartans in the game in the first half without much else going right offensively. Trice added 4 assists, grabbed 3 rebounds, hit 3 of 4 free throws, played strong defense, and took a vintage-Trice-charge-flop in the second half.
Branden Dawson struggled with Maryland's size throughout the game, but Dawson used a mostly-on energy to rack up a game of 17 points and 8 rebounds. Dawson also did just enough from he foul line shooting 5 of 8 from the charity stripe.
Marvin Clark Jr. brought the energy in the second half which seemed to spark the Spartans and resulted in two big slam dunks--an offensive rebound throw down and then drive and big one-handed finish. Clark Jr. also grabbed 4 rebounds in 12 minutes and gave an excellent effort on defense.
Matt Costello's patient work in the post netted him 10 second half points, and, most importantly, opened up space for the other Spartans to operate which got them back to how they had been successful against the Maryland defense in East Lansing.
Tum Tum Nairn played 22 minutes of energetic defense, Bryn Forbes worked hard on defense in his 16 minutes and knocked down a three, and Gavin Schilling grabbed 5 rebounds and scored 4 points while importantly continuing to attack despite struggling with the Maryland size.
Denzel Valentine, for the third time this season, was shut down by the Maryland defense in the points department. In East Lansing, Maryland held Valentine to only 4 points on 1 of 9 from the field. In College Park, Valentine was held to only 9 points on 4 of 9 from the field and to 1 of 6 from three-point land. In this game, Valentine only hit a three pointer but his defense was solid and Valentine dished out 7 assists while grabbing 4 rebounds and picking up two steals.
Tell them what they've won...a re-match with Wisconsin!
With the semi-final win, Michigan State has earned a re-match in the Big Ten Tournament Final with Wisconsin who diced up the Spartans in Madison to begin the month of March. In their semi-final 71-51 win, Wisconsin entered the half down by five to Purdue but crushed the Boliermakers in the second half, 41 to 16. In the game in Madison, Frank Kaminsky scored 31 points against the Spartans in a Wisconsin 7-point win that only seemed close on the scoreboard.