Offensive struggles too much for Gophers to overcome against Michigan State

Minnesota falls to 5-5 in Big Ten play after the 70-52 loss.

Gophers Guard Marcus Carr makes his way down the court at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 15.  Minnesota defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 75-69. (Kamaan Richards / Minnesota Daily)

Image by Kamaan Richards

Gophers Guard Marcus Carr makes his way down the court at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 15. Minnesota defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 75-69. (Kamaan Richards / Minnesota Daily)

by Nick Jungheim

On Thursday, a 62-59 road victory gave Minnesota a season sweep over Ohio State. Against Michigan State on Sunday, the Gophers found themselves on the opposite end of the same scenario.

For the first time this season, Minnesota (11-9, 5-5 Big Ten) dropped a contest at The Barn against a Big Ten opponent, falling 70-52 to No. 11 Michigan State (15-5, 7-2 Big Ten).

“They just physically wore us down,” said head coach Richard Pitino. “Not just rebounding but offensively, defensively. We couldn’t make a shot, and it zapped us.”

Even as Minnesota started the afternoon by pulling down three offensive rebounds in the opening minutes, the Gophers could not capitalize on second-chance opportunities. An extended scoring drought in the first half saw Minnesota open the game 5-26 from the field, including 1-14 from beyond the arc.

“I thought we got really good looks in the first half,” Pitino said. “Our spirit got zapped a little bit.”

Over a 5:22 second stretch without a Gophers’ made field goal, the Spartans used a 12-0 run to build a 22-9 lead. Michigan State got off to a slow start shooting as well but recovered to shoot 12-25 in the opening 20 minutes.

Of the Gophers’ 22 first-half points, 13 came in the final 5:25 of the period. Sophomore Daniel Oturu carried the scoring load offensively in the first half, scoring nine points on 4-6 shooting. Meanwhile, no other Gophers player made more than two field goals.

“Sometimes it just happens in the game of basketball,” said redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr. “You can’t make them all, and some days you’re just going to have worse shooting days than others.”

Following a halftime ceremony honoring Willie Burton, the program’s third all-time leading scorer, the Gophers began scoring at an improved rate. Sophomore Gabe Kalscheur converted a pair of 3-point shots in the opening minutes of the period. However, Michigan State exploited Minnesota’s defense, answering back quickly.

“We were hanging around at eight or nine points and just couldn’t break through,” Pitino said. “We knew we weren’t great. We weren’t playing awful, but we kept looking at the score like, ‘All right, let’s see what we can do.’ Marcus got a steal, missed a layup, from that point, the game shifted.”

The improved efficiency with which Minnesota opened the second half did not last long. Another extended stretch without a field goal, this time 7:07 long, saw Michigan State grow their lead to as many as 15 points.

“They just keep coming at you for 40 minutes,” Carr said of Michigan State. “They know who they are, they’re consistent and they do what they do.”

With 9:21 remaining, Oturu picked up his fourth personal foul, forcing Pitino to pull him from the game. Without  Oturu’s presence, Minnesota struggled to defend the rim and score the basketball. Oturu finished as the game’s leading scorer with 19 points.

Behind three 3-pointers, Kalscheur scored 15 points while Carr also ended in double figures with 11 points, adding seven rebounds and six assists.

Michigan State senior Cassius Winston, who ranks third in the Big Ten averaging 18.0 points per game, scored exactly that many to lead the Spartans. Junior Xavier Tillman recorded his second double-double against Minnesota this season with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

“He’s really big and strong and tough,” Pitino said of Tillman. “They are big at every spot, and you always think rebounding wears you down, they wear you down in other areas too.”

When the Gophers next take the court, it will be back on the road against another tough foe. Minnesota travels south on Thursday to take on No. 21 Illinois, who is currently tied atop the Big Ten standings with Michigan State.