EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Denzel Valentine scored 17 points, and No. 1 Michigan State moved within one victory of matching the program’s best start, beating Florida 58-52 on Saturday night to improve to 11-0.
Only the 2000-01 Spartans had a better start, winning their first 12 games.
Michigan State shot 37 percent from the field against the scrappy, athletic Gators, who trailed by four when the Spartans lost the ball with about 30 seconds to play. Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith took a 3-pointer from the left wing, but he missed and Michigan State was able to pad its margin with free throws.
Finney-Smith and Kasey Hill each scored 13 points for the Gators (6-3). Bryn Forbes scored 12 points for Michigan State.
Both teams shot around 30 percent in first half, with Florida missing all eight of its 3-point tries. The Spartans were up 27-25 at halftime and methodically built an eight-point lead early in the second.
Chris Chiozza wiped out that advantage almost all by himself, making a 3-pointer, a slick pass to Devin Robinson for a dunk and then another 3 to tie it at 38.
With the score tied at 42, there was a wild scramble on the floor for a loose ball. The Gators came up with it, and Finney-Smith’s 3-pointer put Florida ahead.
Marvin Clark and Javon Bess scored back-to-back baskets for the Spartans. Then Florida had a trip down the court that lasted about 70 seconds, with the Gators coming up with four offensive rebounds. Robinson turned the last one into a putback for a 47-46 lead.
But the Spartans responded with a 10-3 run, and a tip-in by Clark made it 56-50 with 2:17 remaining. Hill made a layup and drew a foul with 55 seconds left, but he missed the free throw and the Gators never got it back to a one-possession game.
Florida: The Gators haven’t beaten a team in the AP top five since defeating No. 2 Michigan State on Nov. 27, 2009.
Michigan State: The Spartans didn’t put up huge scoring numbers, but they did finish with 18 assists on 21 field goals. Tum Tum Nairn led the Spartans with five assists.
Florida: Hosts Oklahoma State next Saturday night.
Michigan State: Plays at Northeastern next Saturday.