8-point lead evaporates in latest loss

Minnesota has not beat Michigan State during the regular season since 2006.

Gophers junior forward Trevor Mbakwe tussels with Spartans junior forward Delvon Roe Tuesday at Williams Arena.  The Spartans defeated the Gophers 53 to 48.

Image by Mark Vancleave

Gophers junior forward Trevor Mbakwe tussels with Spartans junior forward Delvon Roe Tuesday at Williams Arena. The Spartans defeated the Gophers 53 to 48.

by Josh Katzenstein

It was right there.

With 4 minutes, 31 seconds to play, the Gophers had a 47-39 lead and a chance to beat Michigan State in a regular season game for the first time since 2006.

Instead, they scored just one point the rest of the game, missed their final six field goal attempts and gave the Spartans two extra chances on a late possession that resulted in two free throws for freshman Keith Appling.

Appling, a 92 percent free throw shooter, hit both to give the Spartans a 50-48 lead with 27 seconds remaining. After Minnesota called a timeout, freshman Chip Armelin missed a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left to effectively seal the GophersâÄô fate âÄî a 53-48 loss Tuesday night at Williams Arena, their sixth in the last seven games.

âÄúWe were running a play for [Blake] Hoffarber to get a shot, but they were guarding him,âÄù Armelin said. âÄúI was trying to make a play to tie the ball game up, and it fell short.âÄù

Armelin scored 11 of his 12 points in the second half, 10 of which came during a 16-2 run by the Gophers. His left-handed layup gave Minnesota its biggest lead of the game, 47-39, and was the last high point for the Gophers, who watched Michigan State (16-11, 8-7 Big Ten) close the game on an 14-1 run.

Still, with the game on the line, Armelin felt confident.

âÄú[My confidence] was pretty high from shooting the ball pretty well,âÄù he said. âÄúIt just didnâÄôt fall down.âÄù

What did fall were the SpartansâÄô late baskets, none bigger than a 3-pointer by senior Durrell Summers with 2:47 remaining. Summers was 0-for-5 from behind the arc before the bucket that cut MinnesotaâÄôs lead to 1.

Then Armelin hit one of two free throws and Appling hit all four of his to mark the end of a game between two teams heading in different directions.

âÄúLetâÄôs face it,âÄù Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. âÄúThey made some big-time shots.âÄù

The Gophers (17-10, 6-9) have not beaten Michigan State in their last nine regular season tries, dating back to Feb. 11, 2006. Both teams needed this one to keep pace with a number of teams hoping to make the NCAA tournament.

âÄúWeâÄôve just really got to stay hungry âĦ knowing that we can win,âÄù said junior forward Ralph Sampson III, who finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. âÄúThe season isnâÄôt over for us. We have a few scrapes and bruises right now, but our confidence is still high.âÄù

Sampson and Trevor Mbakwe provided the most consistent offense for the Gophers throughout the game, hitting shots from inside and outside the lane. Mbakwe had his 16th double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds, but both players missed chances to grab rebounds late in the game.

The Gophers also couldnâÄôt contain senior guard Kalin Lucas. While Michigan State was missing, shooting 36.7 percent (Minnesota shot 37.5 percent), Lucas stayed calm to lead the Spartans with 18 points and four steals.

As for the GophersâÄô senior guard, Hoffarber shot 1-for-8 from the field and scored just five points âÄî none in the second half. Hoffarber did handle the ball fairly well throughout the game and had only one of MinnesotaâÄôs 15 turnovers, but when Michigan State applied full-court pressure late in the game, Smith wished he had senior Al Nolen, whose return from foot surgery remains in question.

âÄúI canâÄôt say enough about our lack of ball handling,âÄù Smith said, adding that the team has emphasized the skill in practice. âÄúI guess we have to do more of it.âÄù

Now the Gophers must regroup before facing Michigan âÄî another bubble team âÄî on Saturday.

âÄúWe just want to try to get another win,âÄù Smith said. âÄúWe really havenâÄôt played well lately. WeâÄôve got a lot of work to do.âÄù