Spartans continue dominance over Gophers

Minnesota stayed close most of the game but didn’t have enough gas to beat No. 7 Michigan State.

Michigan State forward Draymond Green, far right, celebrates after getting fouled in the first half of a game on Wednesday at Michigan's Breslin Center.

Michigan State forward Draymond Green, far right, celebrates after getting fouled in the first half of a game on Wednesday at Michigan’s Breslin Center.

Marco LaNave

EAST LANSING, Mich. âÄî The Gophers menâÄôs basketball team did plenty of things right on Wednesday night against a top-10 opponent. But the goal âÄî a victory in a venue where they hadnâÄôt officially won in 20 years âÄî eluded them again. Minnesota (12-5, 3-2 Big Ten) saw its brief first-half lead slip and its second-half rally fall short in a 60-53 loss to No. 7 Michigan State (14-3, 4-0) at the Breslin Center on Wednesday night. âÄúWe had a chance to win this game,âÄù senior forward Damian Johnson said. âÄúWe didnâÄôt execute; we didnâÄôt finish like we were supposed to.âÄù The Gophers trailed 54-51 when they called a timeout to set up a play with 2:22 remaining. But they didnâÄôt even manage a shot attempt after the Spartans deflected the ball across the half-court line and forced a shot-clock violation with 2:02 to play. That was one of three turnovers in MinnesotaâÄôs final five possessions, which also included only three shots. âÄúWe had some breakdowns there at the end that were uncharacteristic,âÄù Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said. âÄúWe had some turnovers there that mightâÄôve been because of fatigue.âÄù The game was a physical battle from the start. The Gophers overcame a 2-for-15-shooting start to take a 19-15 lead with 6:18 remaining before halftime. The Spartans had a 20-19 lead when their center, Derrick Nix, fell to the court and remained down for about a minute following an elbow from Gophers sophomore center Colton Iverson on a rebound. Despite the Gophers saying that wasnâÄôt necessarily the turning point, Michigan State closed the first half on a 13-4 run, and appeared to be pulling away with a 40-29 lead with 15:49 remaining in the game. But Johnson and senior guard Lawrence Westbrook led Minnesota back by combining to score the teamâÄôs next 20 points. Westbrook made four straight shots during a four-minute stretch and Johnson followed with eight-straight points, capped by an authoritative fast-break dunk that closed the SpartansâÄô lead to 51-49 with 5:10 remaining. Minnesota had a chance to tie or take the lead on the next possession, but WestbrookâÄôs 3-point attempt from the corner in front of the Gophers bench didnâÄôt even touch the rim. It was WestbrookâÄôs only miss of the second half. âÄúWeâÄôve got to find a way to be tougher,âÄù Westbrook said. âÄúThatâÄôs what it is with us all the time.âÄù They badly missed neutralized junior guard Blake Hoffarber, who scored only 4 points (none on three 3-point attempts) in 28 minutes just four days removed from a career-best 27-point outing. His first-half layup gave the Gophers their last lead of the game, 21-20, with 4:36 to play before halftime. âÄúWe have to create shots for Blake,âÄù Westbrook said. âÄúWe can do a little bit better job of setting screens for him, so he can get wide-open looks.âÄù The Gophers made 41 percent of their shots while holding the Spartans to a season-low 36 percent shooting. Michigan State survived, however, because its bench scored 24 points in the first half. The Gophers bench managed just 3 points, the fewest by the Gophers in a game under Smith. âÄúWe had some stretches where we let them outwork us,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúAs a team, weâÄôve just got to know how to finish games and execute together.âÄù After averaging more than 30 points per game through the first 15 games of the season, the Gophers bench has scored just 9 total points in the last two games. âÄúI thought we got some solid playâĦ If they can make those shots, itâÄôd be a different story,âÄù Smith said. âÄúWe know we have to have a total team effort.âÄù Spartans guard Durrell Summers scored 13 points, including 8 straight after Nix fell to the court with 5:34 remaining in the first half. In the second half, Spartans guard Kalin Lucas, the reigning All-Big Ten Player of the Year, scored 11 of his 14 points, including six free throws, which was more than Minnesota made as a team. The Gophers made five of their seven free-throw attempts, and drew just one shooting foul the entire second half. âÄúWe didnâÄôt really take the ball inside,âÄù Smith said. âÄúWe just have to be more aggressive taking the ball to the basketâĦ WeâÄôve got to be physical; weâÄôve got to be strong.âÄù The Gophers and Spartans were even with 37 rebounds each, after Michigan State dominated the boards by an average margin of more than 15 rebounds in three meetings last season. Though they didnâÄôt crash the boards as hard, Westbrook said the intensity was just as apparent as last season. âÄúI donâÄôt know who their rivalry is with,âÄù Westbrook said. âÄú[But] it seems like whenever they play us, theyâÄôre [pumped] up a little bit more than when I see [them play other teams].âÄù