A majority of the Minnesota Golden Gophers were rudely welcomed to Big Ten basketball on Wednesday night at the Barn as the physicality and shot-making of the Michigan State Spartans led to a 75-67 defeat. Despite a resurgent night from sixth year senior forward Eric Curry, an enthusiastic Barnyard student section, and defensive exertion to the last whistle, the Gophers were never able to fully counter the balanced scoring attack from Tom Izzo’s squad, with six Spartans scoring at least six points.
In the early going, Minnesota’s offense looked stagnant as Michigan State applied ample ball pressure and gave Gopher shooters limited space on the perimeter. In the first four and half minutes of play, the home team had a single field goal. Juniors Tyson Walker and Malik Hall led the Spartan offensive attack early, knocking down shots from all three levels. Hall was adept both down low and behind the arc with his second three-pointer at the 2:07 mark of the first half extending the Spartan lead to 33-22.
While the rest of the Gophers appeared to be adjusting to Big Ten play, experienced team captain Curry provided an offensive boost, pouring in 10 points in the first half on 5/10 shooting from the field. The forward was able to slip the high ball screen for space often leading to some easy looks once he worked out a few kinks with his early jittery hands. Payton Willis and Jamison Battle were both relatively quiet in the early going which contributed to the early double-digit deficit.
The Spartans entered halftime up by 13 and continued to pour it on at the beginning of the second half with a Max Christie three-pointer at the 18:21 mark pushing the Michigan State lead to 18, 42-24. Throughout the second half, the Spartans’ three-headed monster of Walker, Hall, and senior forward Gabe Brown continued to shoot efficiently. All three finished with 15 points a piece and combined for 23 rebounds.
The lack of depth didn’t seem to factor into the game’s outcome as the Gophers didn’t appear to tire as the game went on and no one experienced dire foul issues throughout the proceedings. In fact, Minnesota went on a 14-4 run to make the score 64-55 during a four minute stretch in the latter portion of the second half but ultimately, the Spartans made shots to put the game away. It was encouraging to see the home team continue to fight to the very end, never daunted by the large deficit.
The story of the game boiled down to shot-making. The Gophers only had three turnovers to the Spartans’ 13 but shot 39.7% from the field including 6-23 from the three-point line. Compare those numbers to Michigan State’s 48.1% from the field and 10-21 from three and the difference in the game was rather apparent. Part of this disparity could be accredited to the physical and pestering Spartan defense but the Gophers had their fair share of decent looks that they couldn’t capitalize on before the game got away from them. Some late hustle and pressure defense closed the margin to six with 32 seconds to play but it was too little, too late for the plucky home team.
Curry finished with an admirable 18 points on 9 of 14 shooting including five rebounds and three assists. Battle chipped in an inefficient 17 points (5-14 from the field) and Willis was a non-factor going 3-13 from the field for nine points.