Gophers stomp Spartans; improve to 9-1

A 3-0 lead was all the Gophers needed as they cruised past the Spartans behind Carr and Robbins.


Emily Pofahl

Gophers forward Eric Curry challenges a defender at Williams Arena on Thursday, Dec. 10. The Gophers went on to defeat the Kansas City Roos 90-61.

by AJ Condon, Sports Reporter

Gophers’ men’s basketball didn’t skip a single beat after its upset win over then-No. 4 Iowa. No. 21 Minnesota hosted No. 17 Michigan State Monday night and won its second straight game over a ranked team with tough defense and strong offense. The Gophers didn’t trail once and improved to 9-1 (2-1 Big Ten) with an 81-56 win.

The first half consisted of the best defense Minnesota has played all year. Minnesota held the Spartans to 16% shooting from the field and turned that strong defense into offense on the other end. They went into the break leading by 20 points behind a strong first half from junior Liam Robbins.

Robbins got the action going, scoring the first six points on a three pointer followed by an and-one. He had an obvious size advantage and used his post moves to get to the rim and exploit the Spartans. The Big Ten leader in blocks per game came into Monday averaging 2.6 a game and had three in the first 20 minutes.

“He’s just getting more confident. He had an injury that hobbled him a little bit and then we had the pause for a bit, but he’s jumping up a big time level. That’s gonna take time, he’s not used to going against Michigan State, and when you don’t have a traditional summer, you’re going to have to do trial by fire a little bit, you have to figure it out,” head coach Richard Pitino said.

“He’s seeing it, he’s staying confident, he’s putting in the work and he’s allowing us to coach him.”

After dealing with foul trouble early in the season, Robbins has made improvements in his game that have allowed him to be on the court more often. He can’t get any blocks sitting on the bench and he’s polished up that part of his game.

“Shaking the rust off, not playing a game since March of last year, it took me a little longer to get acclimated, plus I was playing with a new team,” Robbins said on his recent improvements. “I’ve been really working in practice on my verticality and just moving my feet to keep me out of foul trouble and I’m seeing the results of that paying off.”

Robbins proceeded to use his mismatch and the Gophers fed him in the paint in the second half. He finished with 18 points, for the second game in a row, along with nine boards, two assists, three blocks and a steal. Robbins has already faced Luka Garza and Kofi Cockburn, which has helped him acclimate to the Big Ten and use it to his advantage against inferior bigs.

“Having your first two Big Ten games going against arguably the two best bigs in the conference is throwing you in the fire a little bit. Michigan State is a very physical team, but I mean I was just ready to play. Our coaches done a really good job preparing us for this whole season… getting this experience did help, but I was ready for it,” Robbins said.

Robbins’ strong performance got him to second on the team, and in the game, for scoring behind none other than redshirt junior Marcus Carr.

Following back-to-back 30-plus point performances, Carr continued to command the offense and had 8 points at half capped off on a step-back three at the buzzer. Carr’s second half performance on offense kept Minnesota’s lead comfortable. After not having an assist in the first half, he had five to go along with 11 second half points to finish with 19.

MSU picked up the offense in the second half, but the Gophers followed suit. Of the 13 players to touch the court, 10 of them scored with two breaking double figures. Trailing 3-0 after the first possession was the closest the Spartans ever got.

The Gophers took advantage of the Spartans’ performance from the field and dominated the rebounding 52-36.

“I think we’ve been playing good defense over the last couple games. Tonight we played good defense, the difference was, today, we rebounded the basketball,” Pitino said. “We were physical, we blocked them out and we finished the possessions with a rebound. We had not been doing that before.”

As deficient as MSU was from the field, 18-of-70, the Spartans weren’t careless with the ball. They turned it over just six times compared to Minnesota’s 14. The difference was the Gophers still led in points off those turnovers 6-5.

Coming off a 26-point performance where redshirt senior Brandon Johnson couldn’t miss, he was brought back to earth on Monday. He contributed on both ends of the court finishing with nine points, seven boards, a pair of assists, a block and a steal. He also drilled a corner three that was unstoppable Christmas night, but was just 1-of-4 from deep.

Johnson is also the only one of the six newcomers to have previously faced Michigan State in the past when he was with Western Michigan. Johnson scored just four points in that first meeting last year, but it’s a different team this year.

“It’s a great team overall, if it wasn’t for our performance on the defensive end, I believe they would have done a lot better. That’s a great team, they’re very well coached. They’re going through somewhat of a tough time, but that amount of coaching and the players that they have on their staff, I believe they’re gonna get it together no problem,” Johnson said.

Junior Both Gach hasn’t been so fortunate on the offensive end as of late and struggled again against the Spartans. After averaging 15.3 points over the first six games, he’s dropped it down to 6.3 in the following three, and was held scoreless in the first half Monday. Outside of shooting the ball, he has still been very involved on offense and had three assists on the night to go along with his six points.

No matter his struggles on the offensive end, the defense he brings to the table game after game is unmatched. Likewise, junior Gabe Kalscheur is in a similar boat and finished with eight points and a defensive effort that unfortunately doesn’t show up in the box score.

It doesn’t get any easier for Minnesota as the team travels to Wisconsin to play the No. 6-ranked Badgers on Thursday. Wisconsin is coming off a home loss to Maryland Monday.