Michigan State controls Grier, Minnesota 69-55

Bob Wothe

You might not have recognized Vincent Grier on Saturday if you didn’t know his number.

The junior forward on Minnesota’s men’s basketball team looked like a completely different person against Michigan State after bucking his trademark Mickey Mouse hairstyle and cutting his hair short, confusing even his teammates.

“When I first saw him, I thought he was Mo (Hargrow),” senior Brent Lawson said.

Unfortunately for the Gophers, Grier’s appearance wasn’t the only thing out of order.

For the second time in three games, Grier struggled from all over the floor en route to a 69-55 loss to Michigan State (12-3, 4-1 Big Ten) in front of a season-high crowd of 12,200 at Williams Arena. He connected on just three of 12 shots and four of seven free throws on his way to 10 points.

Spartans coach Tom Izzo said it was obvious stopping Grier was the key to success for Michigan State and that the focus was on him.

“I’ve never seen a player in this league with his kind of acceleration,” Izzo said after the game. “So we put the six-eyes rule into effect – we wanted two eyes on him from the guy in front of him, and then two from each guy on the side of him.”

The strategy worked perfectly for Michigan State and not only forced Grier into long jumpers he usually doesn’t take but also into five misses from close range – where he generally excels.

“The wings had the help-side defense,” Grier said. “Every time I could beat my man off the dribble, they had wings coming over.”

With Grier unable to effectively penetrate and finish because of the sagging Spartan defense, the Gophers (13-5, 3-2) were forced to rely on senior center Jeff Hagen to lead them in scoring.

Hagen, who wore a black brace on his sprained left knee, turned in what Izzo termed a “heroic” performance by scoring 16 points and grabbing six rebounds in 26 minutes of action.

And despite Grier’s ineffectiveness and the Gophers’ reliance on a man who played through a sprained left ankle he sustained in the second half in addition to his sprained left knee, Minnesota stuck with Michigan State.

The Spartans took the lead with less than eight minutes gone in the first half and would never again relinquish it, but the Gophers kept it within 11.

In fact, Minnesota even closed to within five at 58-53 with 2:14 left on the clock.

But it was then that the other theme of the game shone brightly: rebounding.

Michigan State’s Minneapolis transplant Alan Anderson pulled down an offensive rebound for the Spartans and put it back in with less than two minutes on the clock to put Michigan State up by seven and effectively end the game.

The Gophers were outrebounded for the second-straight game, this time by a margin of 40-25.

With the disparity in rebounds, the Spartans were able to get to the line more often, making 26 of 28 free throws to improve their nation-best mark of 79.6 percent.

Meanwhile, the Gophers missed 10 of 24 attempts, including the front end of multiple bonus opportunities.

In the end, with a neutralized Grier, a hobbled Hagen and an inability to capitalize on opportunities that were given to them, the Gophers were handed their first home loss since November.

“They did the little things to win the game,” said senior guard Aaron Robinson, whose 12 points and four steals helped keep the game close until the end. “I can’t say there’s any specific area we need to improve on – it’s everything.”