The Minnesota Golden Gophers went to East Lansing Wednesday night to play for first place in the Big Ten conference and departed looking more like a Big Ten cellar dweller.
To say Minnesota's performance was disappointing is putting it lightly. The Gophers had two weeks to prepare for MIchigan State, but played like a team that had no idea what the Spartans would try to do. The Gophers were flat-footed when MSU pushed the ball after makes and misses. And Minnesota's transition defense failed to simply stop the ball when Kalin Lucas or any other Spartan was pushing tempo. The Gophers didn't pay special attention to boxing out against the nation's most dominant rebounding team and the Spartans dominated that category 38-21. On offense, the Gophers curled up into a proverbial shell in the face of MSU's swarming pressure defense. Apparently they didn't think that something like a back door or two might soften said pressure.
All that said, Michigan State probably played their most complete 40 minutes this season. They dominated from the opening tip in every aspect of the game. They played like a team that was understandably a little angry, after losing back-to-back home games to Northwestern and Penn State. And they enacted their revenge on the Big Ten at Minnesota's expense, even without the services of their best player, Raymar Morgan.
Durrell Summers led the way for the Spartans in Morgan's sted. He finished with 21 points but his three early three pointers set the tone for the rest of the game. The final was 76-47. And the score accurately describes the feel of the game.
I'm not really sure where else to go from here. As GN said in the Game Thread, it was one of those games when every little thing went wrong. Layups rolled around, went half down and fell out. Some turnovers Minnesota committed (15 all together) were forced. Others were sloppy. But some too were just strange happenstance. These things are going to happen. Let's hope it's all out of the team's system.
And let's hope it was just one of those games. Because the Gophers shot 28 percent. Al Nolen was 0-6. Damian Johnson was 1-5. Ralph Sampson III was 0-4. Devron Bostick was 0-4. The only bright spot offensively was Devoe Joseph, who went 5-8 to lead the team with 11 points.
Perhaps what bothered me the most was the team's lack of fortitude. The Gophers came out flat. When the Spartans jumped out early, the Gophers looked lost. There was no edge to their performance. No fight. No pride. The Gophers kept their composure insofar as they didn't lose their temper, but maybe, just maybe, someone needed to get pissed during that decisive first 20 minutes. But on this team, who is that player? Who is that team leder that stands up, scolds his teammates for missing an assignment and rallies the group? Damian Johnson seems to be too soft spoken. Lawrence Westbrook either scores or he doesn't. Pretty much everyone else who contributes is an underclassmen.
I do want to clarify that last paragraph by stating that the Gophers didn't quit in the second half when the game was all but over. They continued to play and ensured that the game only looked mostly lopsided.
And perhaps Wednesday's performance was an indication the team wasn't ready for the type of pressure a late season game for the conference lead brings. With a frenzied Breslin Center crowd, what is required is premier focus. Everything needs to be donewith clarity and purpose. The Gophers didn't have that.
As for positives, well, I think duckman86 nailed it on the head in the comments section: The loss only counts once in the loss column.
Up Next: Minnesota's tough road trip continues with a trip to Columbus and a tilt with an Ohio State team that just upset Purdue. Nothing easy in the Big Ten this year. We'll see if Minnesota bounces back.