On Monday, the Michigan State Spartans remained the #1 team in the country, receiving all but a single first-place vote in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings.
However, Monday wasn’t all good for the Spartans. It was also announced that Denzel Valentine would miss the next two-to-three weeks after undergoing minor arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose piece of cartilage in his knee. His timetable for return will all depend on how quickly the swelling goes down.
Tuesday night marked the first contest for the Spartans without their senior leader, as they took on the Oakland Golden Grizzlies inside The Palace of Auburn Hills. Even without Valentine in the lineup, the Spartans were 12-point favourites at tip-off.
The game was a home contest for the Golden Grizzlies, and they had their sights set on the massive upset. Michigan State fell behind early, and had to fight back down the stretch to push the game to overtime.
Oakland gave Michigan State everything they could handle, and then some, but it wasn’t enough in the end. The Spartans needed overtime, but were able to overcome a 13-point deficit at halftime and keep their perfect record intact with the 99-93 victory.
The teams would trade baskets, and the lead, in the early part of the first half. Bryn Forbes scored the first six points for the Spartans, while Martez Walker scored four straight points for the Golden Grizzlies to give them a slim 7-6 lead just two minutes into the game.
At the 15:16 mark of the opening half, Kahlil Felder started to heat up from the floor, and his layup kick-started a 17-5 run for Oakland. Felder scored seven straight points for the Golden Grizzlies, and they opened up a 27-13 lead over Michigan State.
Michigan State would keep fighting, and a pair of free throws from Eron Harris cut the deficit to 27-19, but the Spartans had no answer for Felder early on. A pair of jumpers from Felder and a pair of free throws from Percy Gibson gave the Golden Grizzlies a 15-point lead, and it looked as though they would run away with the game.
The Spartans would cut the lead back down to 7 shortly thereafter, but couldn’t find an answer on defense. Strong three point shooting propelled the Golden Grizzlies to a 50-37 lead at the break.
To open the second half, the Spartans needed to start off on a high note, and that’s exactly what they did. Michigan State opened the half on an 11-4 run to cut the deficit to 53-46, capped off by a pair of layups from Harris. They forced Oakland into turnovers on defense, and their defensive pressure led to missed opportunities for the Golden Grizzlies.
With the momentum back on their side, it was only a matter of time before the Spartans would retake the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of the first half. Oakland did their best to hold off the push as long as they could, but a three-pointer from Forbes at the 9:21 mark gave the Spartans a 63-61 lead.
They would push the lead to as many as 6 points down the stretch, but couldn’t put away the Golden Grizzlies. Oakland would continue to chip away, and timely free throw shooting from both Felder and Sherron Dorsey-Walker in the closing two minutes kept them close. Felder would hit an off-balance three pointer to bring Oakland within a single point, at 82-81, with 21 seconds left on the clock.
Michigan State would piss some critical free throws down the stretch that could have sealed the game, as both Harris and Matt Costello made one-of-two at the line. The misses allowed Oakland to hang around ultimately force overtime.
In their first game without Valentine, the Spartans were tied with the Golden Grizzlies at the end of regulation, at 83-all.
With both teams in the bonus, most of the damage in overtime was done at the free throw line. Felder and Harris would score the first points for their respective teams, and the see-saw action continued. Jalen Hayes scored four straight points for the Golden Grizzlies, before Deyonta Davis made his presence known with five straight points for the Spartans.
Davis’ layup at the 1:02 mark of overtime came off a missed three-pointer from Felder, giving the Spartans a 93-91 lead. On the next possession for Oakland, Felder was called for an offensive foul, giving the ball back to the Spartans. The Spartans were looking for a dagger, and Forbes hit a massive three-pointer from the corner to push the Spartans’ lead to five, electrifying the Spartan fans in the process.
The teams would trade free throws in the closing seconds, but Oakland wouldn’t be able to capitalize on their strong first half. It wasn’t easy or pretty, but the Michigan State Spartans kept their perfect record intact and won their first game without senior leader Denzel Valentine, taking down the Oakland Golden Grizzlies in overtime, 99-93.
In the absence of Valentine, the Spartans needed someone else to step up on offense, and they received big performances from Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris. Forbes scored a team-high 32 points, shooting an impressive 7-of-9 from three-point range on the game.
Eron Harris, who started in place of the injured Valentine, recorded 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. He did a lot of his damage from the free throw line, going 11-of-15 from the charity stripe. Matt Costello added a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds in the victory.
For the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, it was star guard Kahlil Felder leading the way. Before fouling out in overtime, Felder recorded a game-high 37 points to go along with 9 assists in the loss. He went 10-of-22 from the floor on the game, and 14-of-18 from the free throw line.
Forward Jalen Hayes added 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Sherron Dorsey-Walker added 13 points in the loss.
The downfall for the Golden Grizzlies was their bench production. They got a grand total of 11 points from their bench players, with Max Hooper accounting for 9 of those 11 points. Big man Brad Brechting recorded 4 fouls in his limited playing time, failing to record any other stat in the game.
Good teams always seem to find a way to win, and that’s exactly what the Michigan State Spartans (13-0) did on Tuesday night. The Spartans closed out non-conference play with a perfect record, and will enjoy a few days off before they open Big Ten play. They will look to open conference play with a big road win over the Iowa Hawkeyes on December 29th, and they will look to do so without Denzel Valentine.
The Oakland Golden Grizzlies (7-4) gave it their all on Tuesday night, but couldn’t pull off the monumental upset. That being said, Oakland should be considered a top contender in the Horizon League this season. Oakland returns to the court on December 28th when they welcome the Chicago State Cougars to town.