Without Travis Trice, the Spartans' tourney chances would have been squashed a long time ago.
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Four years ago, Travis Trice was brought to Michigan State to complement the go-to guards, not become one of them. The scenario didn ’t unfold that way, though, and the Spartans senior has taken on much more of the load than initially anticipated.
By and large, the increase in minutes has been a positive for both parties. He's averaging roughly 14 points during 32 minutes per game. Michigan State’s chances of winning are better when Trice logs a quality 30-something and takes matters into his own hands.
However, that plan doesn ’t always guarantee desired results, which he found out Thursday night versus Minnesota.
Despite scoring 21 points—his sixth 20-plus outburst of the season—and dishing 10 assists, Trice couldn ’t make things happen when they mattered most, especially at the line—where he sank just six of 13 free throws during the 96-90 overtime loss to the Gophers.
That’s life in the Big Ten, though.
“This is what you ask for, honestly—it’s on you if you win or lose,” Trice said of the pressure. “You can’t ask for any more.”
Barely clinging to tournament hopes, Michigan State needs more of the clutch and confident Trice—a player who doesn ’t necessarily have to bombard the scoreboard to be effective and influential—and less of the Trice who feels he has to fill another guy’s shoes.
That guy fell short Thursday night, but the aforementioned player has helped keep Tom Izzo's ship from sinking.
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As the story goes, there once was a guard who defended Izzo’s kingdom with glove-like defense, deadly scoring abilities and obvious physical advantages over the next guy.
That’s not always Trice, who at 6’0” and 170 pounds, is pretty average in those regards. He has his moments, of course. Sometimes he’ll put forth Keith Appling -like defensive efforts and stop an opposing star in his tracks; other times, he’ll make scoring look too easy, just as Kalin Lucas did, while leading the charge to a comfortable win.
He may do some things they’ ve done, but he’s not trying to be them. There is no internal or external motivation to do so, either. It’s about operating within his range, not someone else’s parameters.
“Everybody is a different player. Once you start trying to be somebody else, that’s when you’ll fall and you’ll fail, really,” Trice said. “My thing is that I can only be Travis Trice and I can only try to be the best player I can.
"Each and every night, I try to go out and just play my game and not do too much and just do the things I’ ve worked on.”
Gas to the Fire
The evolution of a playmaker can take years. For Trice, it took roughly two-and-a-half. As a junior, he began to demonstrate a better understanding of his role, and this year, he’s become one of the premier setup men in the country, touting a near-three-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio.
He’ll toss an alley-oop to fellow senior Branden Dawson if need be. Or, he’ll spot an open teammate and stitch a bullet to the corner shooter, which is usually Denzel
Valentine. Sometimes, Trice is the best option. He’s re-embraced the role of scorer—he wore that hat in high school and doesn ’t mind slapping it on when Izzo orders a hot hand.
“To be honest with you, all I care about is winning,” he said. “So whether coach asks me to play a lot, a little, play the 1, 2, come off the bench, start, whatever it is, all I care about is winning—and I love my teammates, so whatever’s best for us, that’s all I care about.”
Along with others, he’s spent agonizing hours in the auxiliary gyms after games, only to return hours later for a workout before a class at 7 a.m. Then back again at lunch, or whenever time allows. The additional sessions helped uncover a player who could bust for 20 on any given night.
“I believe so. I feel like I’m one of the hardest workers out there,” he said. “Somebody might be more talented than me, might be more skilled, might be stronger—but I feel like no matter what, I’m going to out-work everybody."
Basketball and/is Life?
This season isn ’t just Trice’s finale in East Lansing; it could end up unraveling a 17-year streak of tournament appearances for Izzo, who’s been to six Final Fours and won the 2000 national championship.
With just three games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament, the Spartans are in desperate need of a few boosts if they hope to coast into March Madness. Sitting at 19-9 overall and 10-5 in a weakened conference doesn ’t guarantee that the Spartans will be asked to dance.
“I wouldn ’t say it scares me, I take it more as a challenge,” Trice said. “I believe in not having fear—only fear in God, that’s the only thing I fear. So for me, I just take it as a challenge.
"We’ ve got to do whatever we’ ve got to do to get there. Our backs are up against the wall—but we still got time, though, that’s the one thing. We still—it’s in our hands, so our thing is we’re just going to fight. But also at the same time, it’s been 17 [consecutive] years we’ ve made the tournament. I don’t want to be the class to break that.”
Two years ago, Trice didn ’t know if his young life would be cut short due to a mysterious brain disease. let alone if he’d be thrust into one of the most demanding roles in college basketball—running Izzo’s show.
“No, I didn ’t,” he said. “But if you look at some of the things I’ ve been through, I didn ’t even know if I was going to be alive, honestly. Especially going into my sophomore year, so there’s been a lot of things up in the air for me.
"But I’m just happy, man. God’s blessed me with this opportunity. I know other people would kill for this opportunity, to be in the shoes I’m in, so I’m just thankful.”
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability. Stats were pulled from Trice's ESPN page and MSUSpartans .com bio.