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Gophers men’s basketball out of Big Ten tournament, Michigan State advances

The No. 9-seeded Gophers suffered a double-digit loss to the No. 8-seeded Spartans in the second round on Thursday.
Image by Amaya Battle
Mike Mitchell and Parker Fox on the Gopher men’s basketball team talking through the game during a free throw on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023 at Williams Arena.

The No. 9-seeded Gophers lost to No. 8-seeded Michigan State 77-67 on Thursday in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. 

The Spartans will advance to the quarterfinals and take on top-seeded Purdue on Friday at noon.

Junior forward Dawson Garcia opened the game for the Gophers with a spot-up 3-pointer followed by a layup from sophomore forward Pharrel Payne to give Minnesota an early 5-0 lead. 

Spartans center Carson Cooper got Michigan State on the board with a free throw, making the score 7-1 after three minutes.

Minnesota’s early lead fell after drives by Michigan State’s A.J. Hoggard and Malik Hall. The duo’s push gave the Spartans a 14-10 lead with more than 12 minutes left in the first half. 

Hoggard led the Spartans in scoring on the day with 17 points on 100% shooting, adding six assists. Garcia led all players in scoring with 19. 

The Gophers exchanged lead changes with the Spartans through turnovers and an eruptive dunk from senior forward Parker Fox. Garcia added three more points on the next possession to push the lead to 21-14. 

Fox, who has spent seven years in college and was raised in Minnesota, spoke on how it felt to play at Target Center again during what could be his last season. 

“I haven’t played on the Target Center court since I was in third grade. To be able to go back out there and play there again was pretty special,” Fox said.

Back-to-back 3-pointers from the Spartans made it a one-point game with less than eight minutes remaining. 

The Spartans held a one-point lead with more than four minutes remaining until Fox’s layup pushed the Gophers back ahead.

Junior Mike Mitchell Jr. hit an open corner 3-pointer before Spartans guard Jaden Akins responded with a jump shot to tie the score at 32-32 with a minute and a half remaining in the first half. 

A Garcia drive broke the tie shortly after and the Gophers did not allow the Spartans to score again. The Gophers led 34-32 heading into halftime.

Garcia led all scorers with 10 points. Akins led the Spartans with seven points on 100% shooting from the field. Fox finished the half with nine points on 100% shooting.

Payne opened the second half with a layup but gave up an instant transition bucket to Cooper on the other end.

Payne, who shot 44% from the free throw line during the regular season, hit two free throws on the following possession to put him at 3-for-3 on the day.

On Minnesota’s next possession, Payne was fouled on his shot attempt and hit two more free throws, giving the Gophers a 40-36 lead.

The arena erupted as the Spartans took advantage of a tiring Gophers offense and took the lead back. Their time ahead was short-lived once again when freshman Cam Christie hit a three to put the Gophers up two. 

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo had only positive remarks about the Gophers, especially Christie.

“[Christie] is a good player,” Izzo said. “He’s a very good player, and if he keeps getting better, watch out.”

On the next possession, the Gophers forced a turnover and got an and-one from Hawkins courtesy of a goaltend by Kohler. Hawkins pushed the lead to 49-44 before Hoggard hit a 3-pointer to bring it back within two. 

Back-to-back Gopher turnovers late into the second half turned into an Akins putback that gave the Spartans a six-point lead. Garcia air-balled a three on the next possession which turned into the Spartans pushing the lead to eight.

Garcia made a layup with less than five minutes remaining to cut the Spartans lead down to six. The Gophers were perfect (4/4) on field goals after going three minutes without making one. 

Michigan State guard Tyson Walker took over after the five-minute mark, scoring eight straight points and giving the Spartans a 71-61 lead with 2:30 remaining. 

The Gophers would remain in the double-digit deficit until time ran out.

There is a chance the Gophers season is not over yet with a potential invite to the National Invitation Tournament, a considerable step up from not participating in any postseason tournament last year. 

“I definitely think we’re continuing to go in the right direction,” Garcia said. “That’s what it’s about. We’ve got guys in the locker room, a whole coaching staff, a whole university that’s behind us that’s willing and committed to moving in the right direction.”

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