Gophers KO Spartans, 81-74

by Todd Zolecki

All season long the Gophers men’s basketball team has said it is a team that relies on no one player. If a shooter has a bad game, a player off the bench picks up the slack. If a big man gets into foul trouble, somebody else grabs rebounds.
But as much as No. 2 Minnesota likes to talk about itself as a “team,” it wants consistent production from certain players, especially as it heads into the NCAA tournament next week.
It found those individuals Wednesday night during the Gophers’ 81-74 victory against Michigan State at Williams Arena.
Teammates said games are easier when Gophers forward Sam Jacobson is scoring. During the last three games, Jacobson’s scoring has been almost nonexistent. Bothered by a virus, the junior scored a combined 19 points.
He broke out of his three-game shooting funk in the second half Wednesday night, going 5-for-7 from the field and finishing with a game-high 18 points.
At first it appeared the slump stuck with him. He missed his first four attempts in the first half before knocking down a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left. That basket kept the Gophers within three as they went into halftime trailing, 40-37.
It turned out that 3-pointer is what ignited Jacobson’s second half effort.
“I was feeling it,” he said. “I knew pretty much they were going in. I felt comfortable to take my man off the dribble or pull up and shoot it.”
Gophers coach Clem Haskins is glad to see Jacobson find his shooting stroke again. Haskins said it’s time to put Jacobson’s illness behind and start playing tough.
“We need that once we get into postseason play,” Haskins said. “This time of the year you have to step up and play sick. You have to step up and play hurt. You have to deliver. There’s no time for excuses now.”
Jacobson said he felt fine and is ready for the Big Ten season finale Saturday against Wisconsin and the tournament.
“It’s a do or die situation in the tournament,” he said. “I’m going to play the best I can. You just have to work.”
While Jacobson kept making shots, opportunities arose for other players. Guard Bobby Jackson had 16 points, forward Courtney James finished with 15 and guard Eric Harris finished with 13.
The Gophers finished the game with 53 percent shooting from the field. Still, that didn’t allow Minnesota to put the game away. Michigan State kept pace and made nine 3-pointers to keep the game close.
The Spartans shot 48 percent from the floor, including a 6-for-10 effort from 3-point range. They entered the game as the Big Ten’s worst shooting team from that distance.
That’s quite a change from the first time these two teams met Jan. 4 in East Lansing, Mich.
In that game the Spartans shot 30 percent from the field and scored just 16 points in the second half. They needed just eight minutes Wednesday night to reach that mark.
But none of it mattered as the final horn sounded. The 1997 Big Ten championship banner swayed from the rafters — Jackson, John Thomas, Trevor Winter and Aaron Stauber unfurled it before the game — and fans stormed the court. As is customary on the last game at Williams each year, players walked around the court and thanked the fans.
The Gophers went 15-0 for the season at Williams. That’s the fourth time in school history the program went undefeated at home. It’s the first time that’s happened since the 1948-49 season.
This feeling is different from other years. As the team walked off the court it knew it’s in the tournament. No matter what happens Saturday, the Gophers are in. That’ll make Selection Sunday a bit more bearable.
“The first few years it’s been stressful,” Thomas said. “We were somewhere on the bubble. This year we’ve got it. We know were a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.”

Michigan St. 40 34 — 74
Gophers 37 44 — 81

Gophers — Jackson 5-6 4-6 16, Winter 1-3 2-2 4, J.Thomas 3-7 3-4 9, Stauber 0-2 0-0 0, Harris 3-6 7-9 13, Jacobson 6-12 3-4 18, James 6-7 3-4 15, C.Thomas 1-4 0-0 3, Lewis 1-2 1-2 3, Tarver 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-49 23-31 81.
Michigan State — Peterson 2-5 0-0 5, Granger 1-1 0-0 2, Weathers 5-12 5-10 16, Cleaves 5-14 2-3 14, Smith 5-8 0-2 10, Garavaglia 2-6 0-0 4, Kelley 3-6 2-2 9, Polonowski 2-3 0-0 5, Klein 3-6 0-0 9, Mull 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-62 9-17 74.
3-Point goals — Michigan St. 9-23 (Klein 3-5, Cleaves 2-5, Peterson 1-1, Polonowski 1-1, Kelley 1-3, Weathers 1-5, Smith 0-1, Garavaglia 0-2), Minnesota 6-12 (Jacobson 3-5, Jackson 2-3, C.Thomas 1-2, Stauber 0-1, Harris 0-1). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Michigan St. 35 (Smith 14), Minnesota 32 (James 9). Assists — Michigan St. 15 (Cleaves 7), Minnesota 17 (Harris 6). Total fouls — Michigan St. 23, Minnesota 20. A — 14,568.