By NOAH TRISTER
AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — After what could certainly be characterized as an ugly, scrappy win, Tom Izzo gave much of the credit to Bryn Forbes.
"He missed every good shot he took — I thought he took all good shots," the Michigan State coach said. "But the job he did in tracking down loose balls and playing hard and going to get rebounds, the things that we’ve been kind of pushing him for the last two years, really, really, really proud of Bryn."
Forbes had 12 points and six rebounds and fellow senior Denzel Valentine added 17 points, helping the No. 1 Spartans beat Florida 58-52 on Saturday night.
Michigan State (11-0) moved within one victory of matching the program’s best start. The 2000-01 Spartans won their first 12 games.
Michigan State shot 37 percent from the field against the 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).
Forbes and Valentine were a combined 4 for 18 from 3-point range for Michigan State, which shot 5 of 25 as a team. Florida was 4 of 18 from beyond the arc.
"We weren’t really making shots and some guys were struggling offensively, but we could defend and play our hearts out and that’s what we did," Forbes said. "We can’t have our best night every night."
Both teams shot around 30 percent in the 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.
Florida’s 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.
"I was hoping that was going to spark us, but we were already in the hole," Chiozza said. "All that did was get us even."
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.
The crowd roared when Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio and some of his players came out onto the court during a first-half stoppage. The Spartans won the Big Ten and will play Alabama in a national semifinal.
Michigan State also honored its national champion basketball team from 2000 at halftime. The Spartans beat Florida in the title game that year.
Chiozza was in the starting lineup for Florida for the first time this season, and so was guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez. Chiozza scored 11 points but Francis-Ramirez had only one.
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.
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