Late surge buries Gophers, 84-82

Murali Balaji

Fate — and the top-ranked team in the Big Ten — can be so cruel.
This was a game the Gophers wanted so badly they could taste victory for 39 minutes and 58 seconds. This was a matchup that was supposed to showcase Minnesota’s legitimacy as an NCAA tournament contender, as well as a team that was indomitable and impossible to beat in the confines of Williams Arena.
So what happened?
Mateen Cleaves, that’s what happened.
The Michigan State star point guard and protegÇ of Spartans legend Magic Johnson raced down the court and converted an up-and-under lay-in with 1.2 seconds to play to give the fifth-ranked Spartans (22-4, 11-1) a stunning 84-82 victory.
The Gophers and a season-high crowd of 14,887 — worked into an immutable frenzy for most of the game — stood dumbfounded as the Michigan State players ecstatically mobbed Cleaves as the final buzzer sounded.
Minnesota forward Quincy Lewis, whose level of play this season has surpassed petty praise, tried to contain his emotions after seeing a sensational 29-point performance in front of a national audience rebuffed by the Spartans.
“They really battled back,” a blurry-eyed Lewis said. “I thought we had them, but they just came back and got us.”
Lewis and the Gophers weren’t alone in their belief that they had the game in hand. Michigan State Tom Izzo appeared relieved that his team narrowly escaped the jaws of defeat against an invigorated and emotionally-charged Gophers team.
“We got very lucky to this game,” Izzo said. “We got outplayed, outhustled and outworked by Minnesota.”
Indeed, the Gophers might have played their best game of the season, combining offensive balance with unrelenting defensive aggression. The Gophers and the home crowd did everything to make life as miserable as possible for the seemingly invincible Spartans.
During the first half, neither team seemed capable of missing a shot. Minnesota shot 13-of-20 from the floor, while the Spartans countered with 57 percent shooting.
After falling behind 43-40 at intermission, Minnesota broke loose on a 15-4 run and took a 68-60 lead with less than ten minutes to play. With the crowd roaring at a deafening level, the Gophers seemed to have complete control of the game.
The catalysts of the Gophers’ success were guard Kevin Clark and Lewis, but their efforts were aided by reserve forward Dusty Rychart, who finished with 10 points. Clark, who had 15, effectively countered the speed and quickness of Cleaves and backcourt mate Charlie Bell in the transition game.
However, Cleaves wasn’t about to be upstaged by his Minnesota counterpart. The muscular 6-foot-2 junior — as much the heart and soul of Michigan State as Lewis is for Minnesota — began attacking the lanes and creating mismatches in transition.
Cleaves, who had a team-high 23 points and five assists, found an open Bell for a jumper, which cut the Minnesota lead to 76-72 with 2:32 remaining. The re-emergence of Cleaves, who had been effectively contained for much of the second half by Clark and guard Terrance Simmons, rejuvenated the Spartans and directed them back into contention with the Gophers.
“I was just trying to keep everybody calm,” Cleaves said. “(Minnesota) went on some runs, but our guys just stayed competitive and outlasted them.”
Spartans forward/guard Morris Peterson, whose size, speed and athleticism caused problems for Minnesota all game, combined with Cleaves to score 16 of the Spartans last 21 points. The 6-foot-6 Peterson, who finished with 20 points, was praised effusively by Izzo after the game.
“Morris is the kind of player that really has helped our team to where it is today,” Izzo said. “He made some big shots for us.”
But the Gophers weren’t ready to lose their second Big Ten home game of the season yet. With Minnesota trailing 82-79 with eight seconds remaining, Simmons swished an arching three, tying the game and reinvigorating the Minnesota crowd.
Cleaves’ subsequent spectacular end-to-end scoring play finished off Minnesota (14-8, 5-7) and severely impeding the Gophers’ postseason aspirations. However, coach Clem Haskins remained convinced that his team warranted heavy consideration for the NCAA tournament.
“We deserve to be an NCAA tournament team,” Haskins. “We still need some wins to get there.”

MICHIGAN STATE (84)
Smith 1-2 0-0 2, Hutson 3-3 3-6 9, Cleaves 8-15 2-2 23, Bell 6-10 2-2 18, Klein 0-5 0-0 0, Kelley 0-3 0-0 0, Davis 0-1 2-3 2, Peterson 6-10 8-8 20, Granger 3-5 1-2 10
TOTALS: 27-54 (.500) THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: 12-22 (.545) FREE-THROW PERCENTAGE: 18-23 (.783) REBOUNDS: 25 (Bell 6) ASSISTS: 11 (Cleaves 5) BLOCKS: 2 (Bell, Klein) STEALS: 7 (Cleaves, Peterson 2)

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MINNESOTA (82)
Lewis 8-16 11-13 29, Tarver 4-4 2-3 10, Przybilla 2-4 0-0 4, Clark 4-6 5-7 15, Simmons 1-2 1-2 4, Ohnstad 0-0 0-0 0, Nathaniel 3-5 0-0 6, Stanford 0-0 0-0 0, Broxsie 1-3 2-2 4, Rychart 4-5 2-2 10, Sanden 0-0 0-0 0
TOTALS: 27-45 (.600) THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: 5-9 (.556) FREE-THROW PERCENTAGE: 23-29 (.793) REBOUNDS: 28 (Clark 6) ASSISTS: 14 (Przybilla 3) BLOCKS: 4 (Przybilla 3) STEALS: 3 (Lewis, Tarver, Nathaniel)
ATTENDANCE: 14,887

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