Unless you have been living in a cave you know this is obviously not a serious post....but just roll with it K?
A desperation half-court Payton Willis heave fell short alongside Minnesota’s quest to run the table and take home their first ever Big Ten championship as the Gophers fell to Michigan State on in overtime Sunday evening 81-76 in a heartbreaker. Now Minnesota plays the waiting game to see if they’ve done enough to hear its named called in Selection Sunday when the brackets are revealed.
Daniel Oturu was once again fantastic, putting up 25 points and pulling down 17 rebounds, including hitting two three pointers in the second half to keep the Gophers in the game. Willis chipped in 16 points, while Marcus Carr added 12 points and 6 assists. Isaiah Ihnen scored 9 second-half points on three three-pointers while filling in for Alihan Demir, who ran into foul trouble early in the second half.
But on the other end the Spartans were simply too fresh and well-seasoned. Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman combined for 55 of the team’s 81 points, while turning the ball over just twice between the two of them. The Spartans cleaned up on seven Gopher turnovers, turning those into 14 points and keeping the throttle up.
The Little Engine That Could, Minnesota led by six points with three minutes left, but there was simply no more gas left in the tank, and the team went scoreless down the stretch as the Spartans closed the gap, culminating in a buzzer-beating Winston jumper to send the game to overtime. The final period was more of the same as Michigan State leaned on the Gophers and rode out the clock en route to the title. The Spartans completed a three-game season sweep over Minnesota.
Maybe the ask was too large. After all, in the current tournament setup the best teams are given double byes to the quarterfinals while the lowliest teams have to trudge through up to five days of games while picking off increasingly better and more rested opponents. For the Gophers, this meant asking for victories over Northwestern, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan State. A murderers row of foes in the regular season, let alone on five consecutive nights.
But will four wins in five days against some of the best teams in the conference be enough to flip the script for the Gophers? On Wednesday it seemed like they were miles from being an at-large team, but after ripping off these wins and playing the Spartans close perhaps there is more than meets the eye? The latest Bracketology from Lunardi has the Gophers as part of the First Four Out, which puts them right on the cusp. At the very least they’ve played themselves back into consideration, though I fear it might be too little, too late.
This tournament performance, however, is a story on its own. To see the team flip a switch from such a frustrating regular season and turn into such late-season success is inspiring. At 18-17 on the season, you just hope it’s enough to keep the good times humming along.