This one truly was a barn-burner.
Coming off a five-game hot streak in the Big Ten, Michigan State was looking to keep its position at the top of the conference, but the Golden Gophers had a different idea in mind. The first half alone had 16 lead changes and 4 ties. Minnesota’s Ralph Sampson III showed off his creativity with a variety of baby hooks and shots in the paint. The battle between Sampson III and MSU’s Adreian Payne became so hot at one point in the game that a double foul was issued.
These big men don’t play around in the Big Ten when it comes to being physical.
What kept the Golden Gophers so hot in the first half was their defense. After switching to a zone, the team was able to disrupt the Spartans’ offensive flow. Minnesota took away MSU’s driving angles and frustrated Tom Izzo’s squad, but the green and white were able to go into the half with a one-point lead. Brandon Wood’s tough floater in the very crowded lane in the last few seconds before intermission gave the Spartans a 31-30 advantage, and season stats seemed to be on his team’s side:
Michigan State is 19-0 this season when leading at the half.
The story of the second half, though, was turnovers for the home team. While Minnesota was able to carve its biggest lead at 48-39, the Spartans kept digging away, and 12 hand me outs from the Golden Gophers contributed to Spartan points. In the first half, Minnesota only turned the ball over 3 times. Spartan warrior Draymond Green also turned on the magic and helped the team tie it up at 58 a piece with 1:40 left in the game. Sophomore Keith Appling’s six clutch free throws in the final seconds helped the Spartans secure the 66-61 win and breathe easy after this potential upset bid.
The Gophers loss dropped the team to 1-11 against the Spartans under Tubby Smith.
Even though the Spartans won, a few glaring points stood out.
The team was outrebounded 33 to 27, and Minnesota’s Austin Hollins exploded from three-point land, shooting 4 of 6. While Draymond Green also shot 66 percent from the arc, these triples came in the first half. The senior finished the second half shooting 1 for 8 from the field. Another Spartan senior, Brandon Wood, picked up some of Green’s scoring slack after halftime. Wood and Appling both finished with 13 points apiece, and the Spartans finished the night shooting 41 percent from the field.
In terms of bodies on the bench, MSU freshman Travis Trice also returned to action after suffering a sprained right ankle in the win against Ohio State on February 11th. The Spartans will need to continue to get more production from key role players to help alleviate the burden from Draymond Green on nights like this when he goes cold, and cold shooting for Green still isn’t terrible—the senior finished the night with 17 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. While this is not a bad stat line, Tom Izzo will need other guys to drop buckets and boards to help this team stay consistent down the stretch.