I didn't know missing out on a chance for frostbite could make me so sad. — Chris H. (@GoAUpher) January 11, 2014
Close. So very close. The Gophers were close to the sort of upset win that would help them build an NCAA resume. They were close to the first road victory over a Top 5 ranked opponent in program history. And they were close to making me run around in the snow barefoot while wearing Zubaz shorts. But close is as far as Minnesota could come, as the Gophers fell to #4 Michigan State 87-75 on the road in East Lansing.
The first half was enjoyable. For the most part, the Gophers outplayed the Spartans over the first 20 minutes. Minnesota's offensive efficiency numbers were wonderful (132.3). Scoring 1.3 points per possession? If the Gophers were doing that all game every game they'd be first in the country in Offensive Efficiency by a sizable margin. The Gophers had a effective FG% of 64.8% at the break thanks to their 58.3% shooting from behind the arc and they protected the ball. Michigan State wasn't slouching, the Gophers were simply better in most facets of the game in the first half (the Spartans were beating the Gophers on the boards).
The second half did not follow the same script. The advantages the Gophers maintained throughout the first 20 minutes evaporated until it was the Spartans who controlled the stat sheet. 4 minutes into the second half, the Gophers expanded their lead to 10 points on a Mo Walker layup. It would be 13 minutes and 26 seconds before they made another field goal (a Malik Smith 3 pointer). The only reason the Gophers were still in the game at this point was that Andre Hollins hit 8 straight free throws. Even then, the Spartans were able to go on a 15-0 run over 7 and a half minutes before the first of those free throws was taken.
Everything you hate to see from the Gophers made an appearance. Scoring drought? Check. Too many turnovers? Check. Bad shot selection. Check. Getting outrebounded (especially on the offensive glass)? Check. Despite all this, the Gophers were able to keep the game close and thanks to an amazing play by DeAndre Mathieu, force overtime.
ED NOTE: Seriously sweet, even if I share Coach Pitino's lament that maybe a 3 point attempt would have been better.
In the overtime period [REDACTED FOR ALL OF OUR SANITY]. Yea, not good. A tie game turned into a Spartan cover of the spread. Not at all what any of us were hoping for coming into those final 5 minutes. Sigh...ok, let's talk a little more about why the Gophers lost.
Gopher 1st half TO's? 2
Rest of the game? 10
Spartan 1st half TO's? 5.
Rest of the game? 2
Spartan 1st half ORebs? 3.
Rest of game? 10
Spartan 1st half second chance points? 2
Rest of game? 8.
Gopher 1st half FG%? 46.7%
2nd half? 30.8%
Gopher 1st half 3Pt%? 54.5%
2nd half? 11.1%
Gopher 1st half eFG%? 64.8%
So, what's the takeaway? The Gophers lost because they stopped taking care of the ball, started letting Michigan State start grabbing a lot more offensive rebounds, and because they went ice cold from the outside (where they did themselves no favors with their shot selection in the 2nd half). The hard part to swallow is that if the Gophers had keep rebounding reasonably or if they had protected the ball just a little better, they win this game. Even with their 2nd half cold snap on offense. Which is just frustrating.
ED NOTE: I hear you Coach P.
For a game that none of us expected to be close, this loss certainly hurt more than it should have. I get pretty invested when the Gophers are in a game, and it makes it harder to keep the big picture in mind. But let's give that a try.
Big picture, this loss doesn't change anything for Minnesota. The Gophers aren't in a deeper hole and they aren't doomed. They are still in position to seize a spot on the bubble or even make the NCAA tournament. They're still exciting to watch and I still think they'll steal a game they "shouldn't" this season.
However much like the Michigan game, it was a huge missed opportunity. It's crazy to consider, but the Gophers could very well be 4-0 in the B1G with a win over the #4 team in the country with only minor changes to how they played in both games. Sure, normal caveats about playing both teams while key players were out due to injury but reasonable expectations aside, it's hard not to be a little frustrated with that knowledge. Life of a fan I guess.
In the end though, the big picture is the one to keep an eye on. This is still an ok, not great, Gophers team. I won't be surprised to see them play up or down to their competition from night to night. But they're exciting, entertaining, and I'm always ready to see what they'll bring to the floor. In year one of the Pitino era I think that's not a terrible spot to be.
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