EAST LANSING – Something was different from the start, and it had to do with Minnesota’s treatment of the basketball.
The Golden Gophers were putting it in the basket. Over and over again. And very unlike Michigan State’s opponents in the four-game winning streak that preceded Thursday’s game at Breslin Center.
Those opponents – Northwestern, Michigan, Ohio State and Illinois – averaged 55.0 points a game, shooting 37.1% overall and 25.7% from three-point range. The young, athletic Gophers had 55 points with 11 minutes left in the game.
And they had a 67-64 lead with less than three minutes to play. Then the Spartans roared back to take apparent control – up 75-69 with less than 30 seconds to play.
The Gophers resumed putting it in the basket, though, with a pair of Carlos Morris triples combining with more MSU free-throw woes to force overtime. And the Gophers ran away in the extra session for a 96-90 decision – scoring the program’s first victory at Breslin since 1997, breaking a 15-game losing streak.
“It was a good win,” said Minnesota second-year head coach Richard Pitino.
“Gotta tell you,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said, “it’s a sickening loss. But I don’t want to take anything away from Minnesota because they played hard and they played well, and they deserved to win.”
The loss prevents MSU (19-9, 10-5 Big Ten) from achieving a season-high fifth straight victory, and puts the Spartans back into less-comfortable NCAA tournament position – especially considering the regular season finishes at Wisconsin, home vs. Purdue and at Indiana.
Morris actually had a chance to win it with a free throw with 2.2 seconds left, after Izzo was burned for a second time this season by not fouling up three in the waning seconds. It cost MSU at the end of regulation in a double-overtime loss to Maryland on Dec. 30, and Gavin Schilling flew at Morris as he hit his tying three Thursday, banging into him as it swished through.
“He hits the free throw I might have cut down the nets, but that’s OK,” said Pitino, who said he anticipated Izzo wouldn’t foul because the scouting report said he doesn’t in those situations.
Izzo actually said he was planning to foul with MSU up three in the final seconds vs. Ohio State on Feb. 14, but OSO turned it over on the inbounds pass. This time, the plan was to defend all the way.
“Really didn’t plan on fouling at the end this time because we were switching five (players on ball screens) and in every way, shape and form it should have been good enough and we had a miscue,” Izzo said. “So I’ll take full responsibility for that. … There’s 13 seconds left (with Minnesota inbounding) and I didn’t want to foul with that much time left the way we weren’t shooting free throws very good down the stretch.
“So I didn’t want to go to that even/or. So it’s a choice I made and a choice I’ll live with. But if guys would do their damn job and do what they’re supposed to do, we wouldn’t have been in that position anyway.”
That didn’t officially lose the game for MSU, but a controlling overtime for the Gophers (17-12, 6-10) did. MSU’s Denzel Valentine (career-high 27 points) got an eight-point deficit in the final minute of overtime down to three, 91-88, with a three with 38.2 seconds left.
But two Deandre Mathieu foul shots and two MSU misses clinched the Spartans’ third Big Ten home loss of the season. Travis Trice scored 21 points for MSU but was 6-for-18 from the floor and 6-for-13 from the line – with some critical misses late.
“A freak thing,” Trice said of misses that contributed to a 19-for-29 night overall for MSU. “Happened tonight, won’t happen again.”
Branden Dawson had 10 points and eight rebounds, his quietest night in a while. He has been full go for most of the season, and Izzo said he didn’t know why Dawson was so limited Thursday. Dawson said he has to play with more energy than that.
Morris led five Gophers in double figures with 20 points. Minnesota shot 51.8% from the field and 42.1% from three, scoring the most points against MSU since North Carolina beat the Spartans 98-63 on Dec. 3, 2008 at Ford Field.
“We just didn’t guard,” Izzo said, and Valentine added to that: “We kind of got what we deserved.”
The Minnesota bench celebrates and MSU’s Gavin Schilling is dejected after Minnesota’s Carlos Morris hit a three point shot over Schilling to tiie the game in regulation against Minnesota’s. Schilling fouled Morris on the play, but Morris missed the free throw. Minnesota went on to win in overtime 96-90.