FULLERTON, Calif. — Michigan State was in a battle with Boise State in the second half. Leading 40-37 with 15 and a half minutes left in the game, the Spartans had just allowed the Broncos to go on a 13-3 run to push it within a possession.
That’s when Denzel Valentine decided he had enough.
The 6-foot-5 wing, who has made his name as a national player of the year candidate this season with an all-around game that has featured two triple-doubles in his first five games, hit a 3 from the right wing with 15:13 to give Michigan State a six-point lead.
Then he hit another 3 from the right wing with 13 and a half minutes left to stop the bleeding after Boise had knocked down a pair of shots.
Then another from that same spot on the next possession to stretch the lead to seven points.
The most ridiculous 3 in this barrage came on the next possession, as Valentine ran off of three screens and knocked down just a totally outrageous fadeaway off the catch with a hand in his face from the right wing to stretch the lead to 10.
He capped it off with another from the same left wing that started it off, this time coming off of a screen and taking one dribble to the left before throwing up a shot that ended with nothing but the bottom of the net.
“That last one I took was probably a bad shot,” Valentine said about his run while chuckling. “But I was just in my zone and felt like it was going to go in.”
Six possessions, five 3-pointers, and fewer than four minutes to stretch a lead from three to 11, something the Broncos would not challenge to again as the Spartans went on to win 77-67.
“Once I saw the first one drop, I just got this adrenaline,” Valentine said about his barrage. “I don’t know. I just felt like every shot I’d take was going to be good.”
Boise State didn’t even know what to do.
“We were waiting for him to miss, but I guess he didn’t,” forward Nick Duncan said.
Valentine ended up with a career-high 32 points to go with nine rebounds and six assists in the third totally outrageous outing of his season. His coach took a more measured approach to the run while still noting the dominance of his star shooter.
“Denzel had a stretch where he was unbelievable, but I didn’t think it was his best game,” Izzo said. “That’s the good news for me, because he’s playing at such a high level.”
“High level” is an understatement. Six games into the season, and it’s not even close:
He’s the leading candidate for all of the national player of the year awards.
That doesn’t mean things can’t or won’t change. After all, we’re only about one-fifth of the way through the season. Plus, Kris Dunn and Ben Simmons still exist, among other excellent players around the country. But Valentine is averaging a near-triple-double at 18 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.6 assists per game. And he hasn’t accumulated it against cream-puffs either, as he only combined for 19 points total against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Eastern Michigan. His two triple-doubles came against No. 4 Kansas and Boston College. Then this explosion against one of the favorites in the Mountain West.
If Valentine is going to continue to perform like this, the Spartans have a contender on their hands. Which is exactly all that the senior cares about.
“I just want to win a championship,” Valentine said. “I’m not looking to get a career high or a triple-double or anything. I’m just playing to win. That’s what I want to do. Win.”
With games like this, it seems there will be plenty of wins to be had for the Spartans this season.