Valentine’s Day is always tricky. There is pressure on everyone in a relationship to get the right gifts, and anyone without a special someone feels left out in the cold. But in 2015 everyone in the Michigan State Spartans family had something to celebrate.
And it was MSU’s very own St. Valentine who delivered the flowers.
Most Michigan State fans remember Denzel Valentine as an unquestioned superstar. But in February of his junior year, he was still building his legacy. At this point in the season, the Spartans had fallen out of the top 25 and were looking for someone to emerge as a go-to player. While Valentine was already a starter and key player, the Lansing native was still struggling with consistency.
Ohio State, on the other hand, entered East Lansing No. 23 in the country and having won five of their last six games. The Buckeyes featured a dynamic point guard in D’Angelo Russell.
Despite entering the game as the underdog, the Spartans finished the first half with 33-24 lead, led by Brandon Dawson’s 10 points. Michigan State held OSU at arms length for much of the second half as well, but with eight minutes left in the game the Buckeyes finally broke even at 46 each.
The Spartans offense had gone cold, but the defense was keeping MSU in the game. With just over a minute to play, senior point guard Travis Trice hit a layup to push the MSU lead to three. Instead of going for a quick two, Ohio State’s Sam Thompson hit a contested three to tie the game with 38 seconds left.
With seniors Dawson and Trice on the floor, the Spartans had options for the final shot. Trice took the ball over half-court and dribbled to the right around a Matt Costello ball screen. The defense cut him off and Trice passed to Tum Tum Nairn in the corner. Nairn dribbled left and flipped the ball back to a curling Valentine.
The junior squared to the hoop and raised up for a leaning-three point attempt as the sprinting defender closed the gap. The ball splashed through the net with four seconds left.
Fittingly, after an Ohio State timeout, Valentine intercepted the inbounds pass to end the game.
“I was ready to hit the shot,” Valentine said after the game.
It’s a good thing he was. The win was one of the biggest of the Spartans season and was the start of a run that took Michigan State to both the Big Ten Tournament championship game and eventually the Final Four.
Most importantly, it led to every sports outlet leaning into the easiest pun ever.