Minnesota lost to Michigan State 75-74 in overtime yesterday at Williams Arena. The Gophers are now 12-2 on the season and 0-1 in Big Ten play. Michigan State improves to 9-5 on the season and 1-0 in Big Ten play. Nate Mason led all Minnesota scorers with 18 points and four Gophers were in double figures on the night.
This was an unfortunate loss at best. The Gophers were the better team for much of the game, and should believe that they choked away a winnable game through their own lack of execution. Minnesota led by double digits at halftime and should have been up by 20+ with better execution from the field and the foul line. I said in the last recap that the Gophers would lose a game this season because of their struggles from the foul line. Yesterday’s game qualifies. The Gophers were 31-45 from the foul line, which is not great to begin with, and compounded that problem by missing multiple front ends of 1 and 1 opportunities.
Credit to Michigan State. Tom Izzo is-shocker-a better coach than Richard Pitino, and proved that with his halftime adjustments. Michigan State went to a four guard lineup that stymied Minnesota’s attempts to get into the lane. The Gophers did themselves no favors as well. Minnesota had multiple scoreless stretches in the second half, and it was unclear what the Gophers were attempting to get on offense. Minnesota likes to run high ball screens to free up their guards, but that seemed to be the only action. Against a disciplined defensive team like the Spartans, there needs to be other ideas. Like the Florida State game, Minnesota will have plenty of film to use to make adjustments. The potential NCAA tournament bid will depend on whether the coaching staff can learn from these kinds of losses.
The two plays at the end of regulation and overtime both speak to coaching questions. Richard Pitino elected to not call timeout to set up a play, and in both instances the Gophers ended up taking a contested mid range jump shot that never had a prayer of going in. On both plays, there was at least one screen action that did not materialize, which led to bad offensive spacing and made the Spartans’ defensive job easier.
It is also an open question as to why Akeem Springs, the most consistent outside threat for Minnesota, did not see more action in the second half. Michigan State’s second half strategy was to pack the paint, and the Gophers did not have a player on the court other than Nate Mason who is a threat from outside.
Jordan Murphy had 21 rebounds yesterday. 21 rebounds! He added 12 points, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. The sophomore was less effective on offense in the second half (like the Gophers at large), and unfortunately missed most of his free throws. He’s too good of a player to shoot that badly from the charity stripe. Murphy’s free throw woes are getting out of control, and opposing teams should just foul him anytime he is in the act of shooting.
Nick Ward from Michigan State is a good player, who is going to be a nightmare to defend when adds strength in the offseason. He also cannot shoot free throws. Pitino should have elected to foul him regularly once the Gophers were in the bonus. Yes, this is a boring strategy for entertainment, but I don’t care about entertainment. I want to see my favorite team win.
Reggie Lynch played only 11 minutes of the game because of foul trouble, eventually fouling out in the second half. Lynch is too important of a defensive presence to be off the court, and after he fouled out Minnesota had no answer for Michigan State’s Nick Ward.
Big Ten reffing was back with a vengeance last night. Both the Spartans and the Gophers had a lot of justifiable complaints with the officiating, which was consistently inconsistent. In other words, just another Ted Valentine special.