Swagger returns as Gophers play host to Spartans on Saturday

Senior center Jeff Hagen is day-to-day after spraining his left knee Wednesday.

Bob Wothe

After losing Saturday at Iowa, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team was more reserved than usual.

For a few days, there was no longer any talk of a possible NCAA Tournament appearance or even of a top-five finish in the Big Ten – all the team would focus on was going on the road to play Ohio State.

“When we played Iowa, we were just excited to go on the road and play,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said after the road contest against Ohio State Wednesday night. “Today, we were excited to come in and beat Ohio State.”

And when his Gophers did just that by a score of 60-56 in overtime, that swagger was suddenly restored.

“We all looked at each other and knew we were going to win,” said freshman Dan Coleman, whose five overtime points supplied the victory. “I personally thought they were lucky to get with us and stay with us until the end.”

While it might sound brash, Minnesota (13-4, 3-1 Big Ten) will need that kind of confidence when No. 19 Michigan State (11-3, 3-1) comes to Williams Arena in a battle between two second-place teams at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

For Minnesota, a team that many media outlets predicted would not even win one Big Ten game, confidence is at an all-time high, senior Aaron Robinson said.

“(Wednesday’s game) was a real emotional win for us,” Robinson said. “We know that when the NCAA Committee does their voting and looks at teams we played, that’ll be a big one.”

But as important as having the swagger to talk about things like that is, what the Gophers might need most is senior Jeff Hagen back in the lineup to counter Spartans center Paul Davis, who is averaging 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

Last year, Davis scored 15 of his 19 points in the second

half and hit two free throws with 5.2 seconds left in overtime to give Michigan State a 23-point comeback win at Williams Arena.

So getting back Hagen, who sprained his left knee in a pile-up late in the first half Wednesday, will be key.

Hagen did not return to the game and was diagnosed with a Grade 1 medial collateral ligament sprain after undergoing an MRI on Thursday.

His status is listed as day-to-day.

But everyone on the team agreed: With or without Hagen, the game will be very important in determining how the team fares the rest of the season.

“We hope Jeff is healthy, but we know he probably won’t be,” Robinson said. “We’ve just got to step up as a team like we did (Wednesday) and do it.”