There was the double-overtime loss to Maryland at the Breslin Center in late December, the Terps' first Big Ten game. Then there was the double-digit loss to the Terps at Xfinity Center less than three weeks later.
When third-seeded Michigan State takes the court at the United Center for Saturday’s second Big Ten semifinal against second-seeded Maryland, the Spartans will be carrying those memories of frustration and futility.
The frustration stems from Michigan State losing Dec. 30 on its home court to the Terps after leading late in regulation and again late in the first overtime. The futility came when the Spartans couldn’t do anything right in College Park on Jan. 17.
After Michigan State dispatched sixth-seeded Ohio State, 76-67, in Friday’s quarterfinals, junior guard Denzel Valentine was asked if he felt the Spartans owed Maryland something for the two defeats, or if the Terps were merely an obstacle en route to Sunday’s championship game.
“No, we owe ‘em something,” said Valentine, who finished with 23 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals against the Buckeyes. “We let the game at home slip away from us. We were winning and we ended up losing in the last few minutes. We owe them something. We definitely want to win. It’s not just going out and playing. We owe them payback. We want to get a win.”
Said senior guard Travis Trice, who had 18 points Friday night: “They got us [at home]. We felt like they kind of stole that win from us. The second time we have to tip our hat, they were the better team, they outplayed us.”
The first game was an offensive struggle, which Terps led at halftime, 17-14. Maryland senior guard Dez Wells hit a 3-pointer with five seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime.
The Spartans led 55-51 in the first overtime after Maryland coach Mark Turgeon was called for a technical foul with 1:52 remaining. It ended up spurring his team’s comeback.
After the game went into a second overtime, the Terps hit 11 of 12 free throws to win, 68-66.
In the second meeting, freshman point guard Melo Trimble scored 21 of his game-high 24 points and junior forward Jake Layman had career-highs of 23 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Terps to a 75-59 win, their largest margin of victory in the Big Ten.
“We were going through ups and downs at the time, the start of the Big Ten season, we were going through injuries and problems, we’re stable now and we’re at least a stable team and that’s the way we’re going to approach it,” Valentine said.
Said Trice: “We feel we were a different team then. We had a lot of guys in and out and going through injury. At the same time, we’re playing better, but we feel they’re playing better too.”
As well as Trimble has played against the Spartans this season – he also scored 17 points in the first game despite shooting 2 of 14 from the field – Michigan State believes that Wells is the player it has to stop in order to reach Sunday’s final.
“I honestly think Wells will be the key to the game because of the matchup problem he can cause,” Trice said. “If you put a smaller guard on him, he’ll go to the [low] post and if you put a bigger guy, he’s athletic enough to go around him.”
Said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo: “He’s the guy that beat us at our place with the 3. He’s the guy who’s probably lifted his game the most. The whole time Layman’s been pretty good, but Dez Wells has been the difference maker.”
It has been 11 years since the Spartans lost to the same team three times in the a season. (Wisconsin beat them in both regular season games as well as in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.)
“They say it’s hard to beat the same team three times, so hopefully that works in our favor this time,” Trice said. “They’re definitely a great team, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Said Izzo: “I don’t think it matters. We know we should have beat them at home. They know they beat us good at their place. What does it matter? I don’t know, I’m just looking forward to playing the game.”