ANAHEIM-There is a reason why the Michigan State men’s basketball team is ranked No. 3 in the country. There’s also a reason why the Spartans are annually considered to be one of the top college basketball programs around.
His name is Tom Izzo, head coach of the Michigan State Spartans, just in case you haven’t heard of the name before.
And if you weren’t aware, Izzo has a pretty good squad this season, a Spartans team good enough to compete for the NCAA title. Just ask Providence or the rest of the DirecTV Wooden Legacy tournament teams that competed against Michigan State amid the backdrop of Southern California breeze over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Playing at the Anaheim Honda Center in Anaheim, California the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Izzo and his Spartans got defensive in the second half of the DirectTV Wooden Legacy championship game to pull away from a stubborn Providence team to win 77-64. The contest was a lot closer than the final score indicate.
“It means a lot to win this tournament, to win it with my teammates,” Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine said. “For them to step up, it was huge. I’m glad we did it. ”
Though he had a sub-par shooting game from the field (5-14) in the title game, Valentine played well enough (17 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists) to earn tournament MVP honors after leading the Spartans’ push back of the Friars. This is what seems to always make Izzo-coached teams tough to beat. They’re gritty, they fight, they grind and they win ugly at times.
Winning ugly still equates to winning. That formula works for Izzo, though he wasn’t too enthused about his team’s overall performance.
“You know I think we played pretty average in the first half to be honest with you,” Izzo said afterwards at the game’s post press conference. “Providence probably deserves a lot of credit for that. That’s going to be be a very good team. When they beat Arizona I think everybody said is that an upset? They’re very good. They’re tough.
“What impressed me about my guys is that at halftime, none of us were happy because we were outrebounded for the first time this year. We just didn’t seem to have the same zip. I thought we took bad shots…That’s a good team we beat. We didn’t do it the prettiest way, but adversity is going to hit us. We’ve been in a brutal 12 days and we’ve got a tough trip home.”
Izzo and the Spartans had to work for this victory as the Friars walked into halftime only down by two points, and feeling pretty good about themselves. That comfort dissipated in the second half for the Friars as Michigan State went on a 43-32 roll to seal the win.
The fury of the Spartans, always provided by Izzo, their tough-as-nails coach, is something opponents can always count on. Providence found that out out the hard way with a first-hand view.