Road loss puts men’s hoops in desperate state

Brian Hall

EAST LANSING, Mich. – It appeared Kerwin Fleming couldn’t end his misery quick enough.

Michigan State held a 16-point lead with 29 seconds left when the senior guard chased down and attempted to tackle the Spartans’ Marcus Taylor at half court.

The foul put Taylor at the line and sent Fleming to the bench with his fifth foul.

Fellow senior Dusty Rychart, the only Gopher to have played three times in the Breslin Center, readied himself to re-enter the game until coach Dan Monson opted for senior Justin Lorang.

Thursday’s 74-55 loss to Michigan State capped a highly unsuccessful career for Rychart at the Breslin Center. In three-straight losses on the Spartans home court, Minnesota has been outscored by a combined 71 points.

“I don’t have any good memories of this place,” Rychart said. “We have lost on average by about 25, I think. That’s not pretty. I am going to miss coming here and facing the challenge. But I won’t miss walking out of here with a loss.”

Long before heading to the bus with another mark in the loss column, the Gophers jumped out to a quick 15-6 lead on the strength of seven-for-nine shooting.

Minnesota owned its second nine-point lead (17-8) of the game before things got ugly.

Much of the struggles came inside where Spartans big men Aloysius Anagonye and Adam Ballinger pestered the Gophers inside attack of Rychart, Jerry Holman and Rick Rickert.

“That’s what (the Spartans) do,” forward Michael Bauer said. “They get people frustrated. The guys that have been here before know you’ve got to just keep playing.”

Freshman forward Rickert, the Gopher’s number one scoring option, scored four of Minnesota’s first six points but was held without a field goal for the remainder of the game.

Rychart scored 11 in the first half but only put up two after the break.

“Their strength wore us down,” Monson said. “We couldn’t get it going inside. When we did, they bumped us off the block and forced us to go back outside. Their strength was the biggest key.”

While Michigan State’s defensive game plan harassed Minnesota, the Spartans made the Gophers pay for their defensive preparation. Minnesota hoped to shut down Michigan State’s top two weapons, Taylor and Chris Hill, by blanketing them with a zone defense.

Although the tactic worked on the pair, the zone left Ballinger wide open – and he made the Gophers pay dearly.

“I was able to get open a few times and I knocked down the shot,” said Ballinger, who scored a game-high 20 points. “They were keying on Marcus and Chris. That’s what you have to do. But, I hit my shots. We don’t like to rely on our offense. We want to win games with our defense and rebounding, which we were able to do.”

Minnesota shot 42 percent on the night – 35 percent in the second half – and was out-rebounded
34-25. The Gophers scored seven points over the last 10-plus minutes of the game.

Obviously frustrated, Minnesota must now turn around and play again at Penn State within 48 hours.

The Gophers, who have only one win on the road this season, must defeat the Lions on Saturday to garner any hope for an NCAA tournament berth.

With three regular season games left, desperation has set in for Minnesota.

“I would like to get all three,” Monson said. “We cannot let this snowball into Saturday. I don’t know where nine or 10 wins get us. We just have to come out with the same emotion and effort we had today. It’s a tough road swing. We just have to regroup now.”

 

Brian Hall covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]