Men’s hoops notch first Big Ten victory

David La Vaque

It was the sort of afternoon where three-pointers rained down but effort down low reigned supreme.

Ten three-pointers sparked Minnesota?s 77-69 victory over Michigan State on Saturday at Williams Arena, but the Gophers’ reluctance to be carved up inside by the Spartans was also key.

Minnesota (9-5, 1-2 Big Ten) shook off a slow start to the conference season with an emotional beginning to Saturday’s matinee.

Forward Michael Bauer finished a fast break with a two-handed dunk 13 seconds into the game, an action resembling the pushing down of a plunger wired to dynamite.

The season-high crowd of 14,617 exploded on cue, and the Gophers were snapped out of a two-game trance.

Though Minnesota’s coaching staff has done its best to keep heads high, all involved learned Saturday that one win is worth 1,000 reassuring words.

“In order to believe,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said, “they have to feel success.”

Bauer’s work on both ends spelled success for Minnesota against Michigan State. The junior forward dropped five three-pointers and 21 points on the Spartans but also willingly guarded strongman Aloysius Anagonye.

Led by the 6-foot-8-inch, 260-pound Anagonye, Michigan State entered the game leading the Big Ten with a plus-6.4 rebounding margin. In coach Tom Izzo’s seven years on the sidelines, the Spartans have never ranked worse than second in the conference in rebound margin.

But Minnesota rolled up its sleeves and got to work, trailing Michigan State (9-7, 1-3) by only one rebound at halftime.

By absorbing shots under the basket and dropping shots through the basket, the Gophers stayed out in front for the last 27 minutes of the game.

Minnesota’s Rick Rickert matched Bauer’s 21 points, while Aaron Robinson posted six assists.

“We know what we have on this team; we have something special,” Bauer said. “We’re trying to get out there and show everybody we’re working hard.”

Dogged effort will be critical to Minnesota’s matchup at Michigan on Wednesday. While the Spartans are a former powerhouse in decline, the Wolverines are a surging bunch.

After starting the season 0-6, including an 81-59 thrashing at Duke, Michigan has won 11 straight.

“We’ve got to go on a run like Michigan,” Bauer said. “We can do that too if we keep bringing the same intensity to games.”

To generate such intensity, Monson has resorted to making five-man substitutions twice in three Big Ten games.

Monson has scolded, supported and cajoled his team, but now he’s letting Saturday’s win do the talking.

“We played very well in segments tonight,” Monson said. “But it’s a lot easier to learn lessons after a win.”

Minnesota is still fighting long odds — only once in program history has a Gopher team began its Big Ten season 0-2 and still wound up in the NCAA tournament.

After stumbling through a loss to Illinois in which they recorded season lows in field goals made, field goal and three-point percentage, the Gophers went out and scored their lowest point total in three years at Wisconsin.

But Saturday’s win rejuvenated Minnesota’s offense and attitude just in time for a trip to Ann Arbor to face the hottest team in the conference.

David La Vaque welcomes comments at [email protected]