Entering Thursday night, the Michigan State Spartans were flying high. The Spartans were riding a four-game winning streak into East Lansing, and were looking to keep pace with the Maryland Terrapins for second in the Big Ten standings. With their recent stretch of strong play, the Spartans broke back into the Top 25 in the Coaches Poll this week, coming in at #25. Thursday was a game that the Spartans were predicted to win, and the home crowd was hoping they would keep the winning ways going and secure their 20th win of the season.
On the other side of the floor, the Minnesota Golden Gophers entered the contest with a boat load of struggles in conference action. After an eight-game winning streak to close out non-conference play, the Gophers have since been looking for answers, entering the Breslin Center with a 5-10 record in Big Ten play. Minnesota was a 10-point underdog entering the game, and wasn’t supposed to win. However, nobody told them that.
The Golden Gophers tied the game up in the dying seconds of regulation, and then got some solid free throw shooting in overtime, and they came away with the upset 96-90 win in overtime when it was all said and done.
The first half saw a lot of back-and-forth action, with both teams trading leads in the first five minutes of the contest. Alvin Ellis III scored five straight points for the Spartans to stake the home team to a seven point lead, but the Golden Gophers would keep fighting. The visitors would keep the Spartans in their sights, never allowing them to pull away and put the game out of reach.
The Golden Gophers wouldn’t take another lead in the first half, but they were able to trim the deficit down to a manageable number going into the break. Joey King put in a layup with 39 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to five heading into the half.
At the break, the Michigan State Spartans led the Minnesota Golden Gophers 41-36. The Spartans’ bench outscored that of Minnesota’s in the first half, 18-13, which is ultimately the reason for their lead after the first 20 minutes.
To open the second half, Minnesota cut the lead to one, but a Denzel Valentine pushed the lead back to six with a three-pointer at the 16:31 mark. The lead would get pushed to seven at the 12:14 mark, but just like the first half, the Golden Gophers hung around.
The Gophers would get the game all tied up on a couple of occasions, including a 61-all tie with just over 8 minutes to go. They would then take their first lead of the game since early in the first half, thanks to free throws from King and Carlos Morris.
Minnesota’s lead was short-lived, as Valentine connected on another three pointer to put the Spartans back in front. That’s when the back-and-forth action would resume once again, as both teams would constantly trade leads as the time wound down.
With just 23 seconds left on the clock, the Spartans held a five-point lead, and the game looked to be in the bag. Once again, Minnesota stormed back to make things interesting. King made three consecutive free throws, before Valentine made one-of-two for the Spartans, and the deficit was three with 12 seconds remaining. That’s when Carlos Morris turned on his heroics for the Gophers. He connected on a three-pointer with 3 seconds on the clock, and was fouled by Valentine. Fortunately for Michigan State, Morris was unable to finish off the four-point play, and the game was off to overtime tied at 78-all.
In overtime, Minnesota carried the momentum they gained at the end of regulation into the extra period and took the game over. They capitalized on missed opportunities by the Spartans at the free throw line, and made their own free throws to put the game out of reach. Minnesota outscored the Spartans 18-12 in the extra frame, and came away with the 96-90 upset win over the Michigan State Spartans.
For the visiting Minnesota Golden Gophers, five different players scored in double figures in the win. Carlos Morris led the way, scoring a team-high 20 points before fouling out in overtime. Joey King and Andre Hollins each added 17 points of their own to help lead Minnesota to the win.
As for the hometown Michigan State Spartans, they couldn’t close it out down the stretch. Denzel Valentine set a new career-high on Thursday night, scoring a game-high 27 points in the loss. Travis Trice added 21 points off the bench, but it wasn’t enough to lead the Spartans to victory.
The same issue that has been holding the Spartans back this season held them back on Thursday night. Their inability to capitalize at the free throw line has hurt the Spartans on several occasions in 2014-15, with the latest instance coming against the Golden Gophers. For the game, the team went 19-of-29 (65.5%) from the charity stripe, and that’s ultimately where the game was lost. In overtime, the team was just 5-of-9, and they were 8-of-13 in the second half.
Michigan State also lives by the three pointer, but it killed them in the end on this night. In overtime, they were just 1-of-6 from long distance. They need to establish a stronger inside presence, outside of Branden Dawson, if they want to be successful down the stretch and in the NCAA Tournament.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-12, 6-10), as they look to make a late-season push for a post-season tournament berth. They will look to build off this win and keep their momentum going next Thursday when they welcome the Wisconsin Badgers to “The Barn.”
On the flip side, the loss snapped the four-game winning streak of the Michigan State Spartans (19-9, 10-5), and is another head-scratching loss on an already suspect NCAA Tournament resume. The Spartans cannot afford another bad loss on their record the rest of the way this season if they want to make the NCAA Tournament and make some noise. They will look to bolster their resume when they pay a visit to the Wisconsin Badgers this Sunday.