U fizzles, falls to Spartans

Adam Fink

Sitting with one conference win and staring up at the rest of the Big Ten, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team knew it would likely take a perfectly executed game to sideswipe conference contender Michigan State on Saturday afternoon.

Among the items on the to-do list were containing the Spartans’ Paul Davis and limiting the fast-break points.

And if the Gophers needed any more adversity they only had to look at the Spartans’ home record. Michigan State has only lost five home games this century.

For almost 25 minutes at the Breslin Center, Minnesota played smart offensively, was solid on defense and held the lead.

But the Spartans took over in the final 15 minutes, hitting clutch three-point shots and winning the battle for the loose balls, forcing a season-high 15 steals.

Minnesota failed to avenge an overtime loss at Williams Arena on Jan. 28 as the Gophers’ eight-point halftime lead vanished into a pile of turnovers and scoreless streaks en route to Michigan State’s win 69-58.

“You have to go for 40 minutes,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said in a statement. “I thought we were really more aggressive the first 17-18 minutes of the first half but they came out again and gave us another blow to start the second half. We got a little bit back on track, but not aggressive enough to move the ball and get the shots that we needed in the second half.”

Minnesota (9-14, 1-10 Big Ten) remains in last place in the Big Ten, two and a half games behind Penn State.

The Spartans improved to 8-3 in the conference and are only a half-game behind Wisconsin – a 78-48 winner over Ohio State on Saturday – for the conference lead.

Michigan State eliminated the Gophers’ halftime lead quickly Saturday.

Chris Hill scored eight points in the first five minutes of the second half and his basket at 14:28 tied the game at 45-45.

After Michigan State went ahead for good at 54-51, the Gophers fell apart the same way they have done all season.

In the final 10 minutes, Minnesota scored one field goal and didn’t get anything over a free throw after the 6:14 mark.

During that stretch, the Gophers committed nine of their season-high 20 turnovers.

In the second half, Minnesota only scored 19 points, compared to 39 in the first stanza.

“We didn’t have a field goal forever at the end,” Monson said. “We put so much on our defense.”

Although Monson said he was relatively happy with the defensive effort, Michigan State shot 61 percent in the final 20 minutes.

The Gophers did a solid job of shutting down Davis, a sophomore forward Monson referred to as a bigger and stronger Rick Rickert.

Davis, averaging 15.9 points per game, didn’t score until eight minutes remained and finished with eight points.

The Gophers also shut down Michigan State’s transition game, which only scored six first-half points as Minnesota built a lead.

Despite facing an early seven point deficit, the Gophers took a surprising eight-point advantage into halftime.

Behind a balanced offensive attack and an aggressive defense, Minnesota took its first lead eight minutes into the half.

Ben Johnson scored 10 points in the first half, and finished with 14.

Kris Humphries added 11 points in the stanza, including a two-handed slam following Brent Lawson’s missed layup with 3:52 remaining.

Humphries, the Big Ten’s leader in points and rebounds, again led the Gophers finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds.

“Both of the times that we have played his team, most of the team has outplayed us,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said in a statement. “That effort in the first half was as good an effort as we have fought against this year.

“In every way, shape and form, (Minnesota) just seemed to want it a little bit more.”

The victory was Izzo’s 100th in charge of the Spartans.

The Gophers next play Wednesday at Indiana. Game time from Assembly Hall is 7 p.m.