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Gophers drop first game of season to No. 19 Michigan State

Minnesota’s undefeated season comes to an end, but its commitment to not give up was on full display Wednesday.
Forward Eric Curry jumps to defend against sophomore forward Ivan Bender on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, at the Sports Pavilion.
Image by Chris Dang, Daily File Photo
Forward Eric Curry jumps to defend against sophomore forward Ivan Bender on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, at the Sports Pavilion.

Minnesota struggled from the field for the first time this season against No. 19 Michigan State in its first Big Ten game of the season. That didn’t stop the Gophers from giving the Spartans a fight to the end. Michigan State was able to hold out and take a 75-67 win.

“It’s tough, we’re playing the 19th rated team in the country, and obviously they’re really well-coached. When you gotta put all the energy to get back in the game, it’s hard and they don’t make many mistakes. You gotta capitalize when you can get a turnover or an open look,” head coach Ben Johnson said.

Even through their struggles, the Gophers never gave up. Minnesota trailed by as many as 19 at one point in the second half. Ultimately, the Spartans were able to hold out and end their undefeated season.

After a difficult first half for sophomore Jamison Battle, he was able to get the crowd electrified multiple times during the comeback. Battle scored just three points in the first half, but came alive for a couple stretches to end the night with 17 points.

Battle wasn’t alone, the Spartans made it a lot tougher on all of the Gophers. Minnesota came into Wednesday sitting at 7-0 and shooting 45.7% from the field and 36.2% from deep. The slow start was too much to shoot back into as Minnesota shot 39.7% from the field and 26.1% from deep.

Minnesota continued to settle for contested jumpers, and unlike the Spartans, they weren’t dropping for the Gophers. The Gophers also played a very clean game on the offensive side and turned the ball over just three times.

Unfortunately, the first half deficit proved to be too much to overcome after the Spartans went into the break up by 13. Outside of redshirt senior Eric Curry and senior Payton Willis, the only two players with experience against Big Ten opponents in The Barn, the offense struggled in the first half.

As a team, Minnesota shot just 30.3% from the field and 18.2% from deep in the first half with 17 of its 24 points coming from Curry and Willis. Curry led Minnesota with 10 points as Willis accounted for seven including one of the Gophers’ two made threes.

On the defensive side, the Gophers were the best team coming into the game at stopping the three ball. Teams averaged just 23.1% from deep when playing against Minnesota -that is, until the Spartans came to town.

Michigan State let it rain in the first half, hitting six three-pointers on its way to a dominant first half. The deep ball continued to fly for the Spartans as they made 10-21, and the four in the second half came at important times.

Besides the three-pointers, Minnesota played a relatively good defensive game. The Spartans were just a little better and were able to knock down contested shots. Whenever Minnesota seemed to be closing the gap, a Spartan three would quiet the crowd and put an end to the Gopher run.

Curry continued his dominance and scored a career-high 18 points against a tough Spartan defense. He was efficient in his night going 9-14 from the field while missing his lone three-point attempt.

“Man you’ve improved a ton… This kid, I’m happy for him. When guys can stick it out six years and go through what he went through, and he looked tougher, he looked way more aggressive tonight than I’ve seen him on film,” Spartan’s head coach Tom Izzo said on Curry’s play.

The Gophers made the game close, getting to within six at one point. The crowd continued to be on the Gophers’ back and Minnesota gave them plenty to cheer for in a tough loss.

“I thought the crowd was great, the crowd was awesome. The student section was big-time, [I] really appreciate them coming out. Our guys felt it, and I think their effort was a result of the energy they felt in the building,” Johnson said.

The Gophers will continue their Big Ten play against Michigan Saturday as Minnesota travels to Ann Arbor, Mich., to try and get its first conference win.

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