Costello saving his best for last with No. 8 Michigan State
EAST LANSING, MICH. — Matt Costello made a 3-pointer and celebrated by blowing on his fingers and sticking out his tongue as he ran down the court.
The Michigan State forward got back on defense and into a position to get a rebound.
Costello grabbed an offensive rebound to extend the ensuing possession and made a layup to finish off an impressive stretch that lasted a little longer than a minute Sunday, helping the eighth-ranked Spartans seal an 88-69 win over Indiana.
"He's playing his way right into the NBA and we helped him," Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said.
Michigan State (21-1, 8-5 Big Ten) hopes Costello can keep up his strong play against Wisconsin (16-9, 8-4) on Thursday night at home. The Badgers beat the Spartans last month at home, starting a seven-game winning streak that includes Saturday's 13-point win over then-No. 2 Maryland on the road.
Even though Michigan State is likely out of the race for a regular season championship, Costello said there's a lot at stake over the next two months.
"We got a lot of stuff we're playing for," he said. "The wins record; we're playing for a good seed in the Big Ten tournament, missing the first two days; playing for a good seed in the NCAA tournament."
The Spartans will have to close the season exceptionally well, and probably win a national championship, to match or surpass the school's single-season wins record of 33 set during the 1998-99 season when they reached the Final Four. To earn a pass to the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, they have some work to do to finish among the top four. A strong showing over the last five regular season games and in the conference tournament would boost Michigan State's seeding in the NCAA tournament.
If the Spartans' seniors — Denzel Valentine, Costello and Bryn Forbes — play at or near their potential, anything is possible. While Forbes is in just his second season after transferring from Cleveland State, Costello and Valentine have been talking about having a special senior season for four years.
"This is the kind of year we dreamed of," Costello said. "We've put our time in here, into this program, both of us. It just goes to show if you do the right thing long enough, it'll work out for you."
Costello has been a consistent player coach Tom Izzo can count on, and he's coming off perhaps his best game.
He had 22 points — four more than his previous personal best last year against Wisconsin — 11 rebounds and a career-high matching three blocks against Indiana.
Izzo, though, lamented how poorly Costello played early in the game at both ends of the court before reminding himself of how well his game looked on the box score.
"Twenty-two points, 11 rebounds and I'm figuring out a way he didn't do as good as you guys," Izzo told reporters. "That's pretty cool."
Izzo and his assistants have been waiting for years for Costello to break out the way he has lately.
In Big Ten games, Costello is leading the league with 10.2 rebounds a game and is averaging 13.1 points a game. Overall, he's scoring 10.3 points and grabbing 8.3 rebounds this season and has been the type of player the Spartans were hoping for when he beat out Valentine for Michigan's Mr. Basketball award in 2012.
"He's a product of the system and he is as tough a player as there is in the league," Crean said. "He has improved his speed and quickness. ... They are doing an outstanding job of spacing and because he can shoot the ball and pass. He can get people open it makes him incredibly valuable."
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