Michigan State's supporting cast shows it can carry the load

Michigan State's supporting cast shows it can carry the load

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Bryn Forbes sank jump shots. Deyonta Davis scored efficiently around the rim. Eron Harris made his first meaningful contributions of the season.

On a night when Denzel Valentine finally looked mortal, his supporting cast showed Michigan State doesn't need its national player of the year candidate to be superhuman in order to beat a quality opponent. Forbes, Davis and Harris combined for 42 points, helping the Spartans overcome a late four-point deficit to defeat Providence 77-64 in the championship game of the Wooden Legacy tournament.

"It was great to see them step up on a stage like this in a championship game," Valentine said. "I can't have bad games like this, but it was good to know my teammates can pick up the slack when I struggle. Everything happens for a reason, and I think this will help us."

It's a testament to how good Valentine has been this season that Sunday night's performance was his definition of struggling. The 6-foot-5 senior tallied 16 points, six rebounds and five assists, but early foul trouble threw his rhythm out of whack and led to a disjointed 5-for-14 shooting night.

Valentine only scored one basket and assisted on another during the decisive Michigan State run that transformed a 57-53 deficit into a 64-57 lead. It was a far cry from the first two nights of the tournament when he tallied a triple-double against Boston College and scorched Boise State for a career-high 32 points, elevating his stature nationally in the process.

"Denzel would be the first to tell you that wasn't his typical game" Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "He was out of sync."

While Davis had two critical baskets and an assist during the game-clinching run and fellow freshman Matt McQuaid sank the biggest 3-pointer of the game, maybe the two most significant developments for Michigan State were the play of Forbes and Harris.

Forbes, a sharpshooter with deep range, had only attempted a total of 13 shots in Michigan State's past three games. He had 12 shots alone on Sunday and scored 18 points, a product of him being more precise and aggressive on his off-ball cuts and Izzo making a greater effort to design plays to get him shots.

"Tonight he was more aggressive and we did a better job of running some things for him," Izzo said. "It was a combination that worked well."

Also productive in the backcourt was Harris, a transfer from West Virginia who averaged more than 17 points per game his final year with the Mountaineers but had only tallied double figures once in his first six games with the Spartans. Ice-cold perimeter shooting only caused the 6-foot-3 junior to put more pressure on himself on offense and lose focus on defense.

On Sunday night, Harris had a confidence-boosting early sequence in which he contributed an assist, a steal and a reverse layup in the span of less than a minute. That spilled over into the rest of the game, enabling him to finish with a season-high 12 points and earn the trust of the coaching staff to the point that he was on the floor during the night's most critical junctures.

"Eron's really unique in that he's probably our best driver. He got some confidence early and it allowed him to play a little more free. It got him going on defense too. He has really struggled defensively, but tonight he was asking to guard guys. We hadn't heard that since he's been here." Michigan State needed big performances from Harris and Forbes to survive Providence's two-headed monster.

Point guard Kris Dunn, Providence's own national player of the year candidate, tallied 21 points, seven assists and five rebounds despite second-half foul trouble. Versatile forward Ben Bentil proved an even tougher matchup for a Michigan State team still without forward Gavin Schilling. Bentil finished with 20 points and seven rebounds.

That was enough to keep Providence in front much of the night, but the Friars' short bench hurt them late in their third game in four days. At the same time as they faded, Michigan State's unheralded role players stepped up.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!