Gophers lose to Michigan State, 64-56; postseason waiting game begins

With just under a minute left and the Gophers down six, junior forward Damian Johnson drove into a mass of defenders in the lane and put up an off-balance, awkward jump shot. It clanged off the rim, touched several different hands and went out of bounds, last touched by a Gophers player. With that, MinnesotaâÄôs brief comeback ended, along with their Big Ten tournament run. Top-seeded Michigan State made a few more free throws and won 64-56, suspending the GophersâÄô season until Sunday, when they will find out if theyâÄôre in the NCAA tournament or not. Coming into the game third in the Big Ten in free throw percentage, the Gophers made just 13 of 27 free throw attempts. With 1:26 remaining they were 12-for-26 from the free throw line, and had they been shooting their season average percentage, wouldâÄôve had an extra seven points. At that point they only trailed by five. âÄúWe just didnâÄôt capitalize,âÄù Smith said in a short postgame press conference. âÄúWe like to play up-tempo but we just didnâÄôt score.âÄù Shooting was a general problem for the Gophers, who were also just 3-of-16 on 3-pointers and 20-for-53 from the field. Johnson led Minnesota with 19 points, while Lawrence Westbrook had 10. The other three starters — Al Nolen, Jamal Abu-Shamala and Ralph Sampson III — combined for just five. Junior college transfer Devron Bostick had his second straight big game off the bench, with 12 points and three rebounds. It wasn’t a terrible loss for the Gophers. No. 6 Michigan State, if it keeps winning, will likely get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament after three of the top seeds — Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and Connecticut — lost Thursday. They beat the Gophers by 29 points in early February and were favored by eight to nine points. The Gophers, according to most experts, needed just one win in the conference tournament, and they got it Thursday afternoon against Northwestern. âÄúI think we’ve had a pretty good resume,âÄù Smith said. âÄúWe’ve had a pretty good year. Not a great year, but a good enough year. I think looking at the competition and the way we played, obviously we had a rough month, February, but those five games we lost that month were all on the road. So hopefully that accounts for something.âÄù The Gophers trailed by 12 with less than two minutes left, but freshman Colton IversonâÄôs driving, baseline layup cut the lead to ten — though he was fouled on the play and missed the free throw. After a missed shot on the other end, Paul CarterâÄôs similar driving layup, which became a three-point-play after a made free-throw, make the score 58-51. Using a full-court trap, the Gophers forced a turnover on Michigan StateâÄôs next possession, and JohnsonâÄôs driving layup cut it to five. But the Spartans made six of their final eight free throws, advancing to the semifinals. The Gophers have to wait until Sunday to know about their postseason, when the NCAA will announce the 65-team field for its tournament. If the Gophers donâÄôt receive one of those bids, they will play in the National Invitational Tournament for the second year in a row. âÄúI think weâÄôre a team that could play well in the NCAA tournament,âÄù Smith said. âÄúBut if we donâÄôt, weâÄôll be happy to go wherever in post-season play. Any time you get to this point you just want the kids to have a good experience. And we have a chance to, I think, be a good pick to go to the NCAA tournament.âÄù