Minnesota defeated Michigan State at Williams Arena 59-56 in a classic Big Ten slug fest. The Gophers improve to 15-7 on the season, 6-5 in conference play, and are currently 4th in the conference. Fourth in the conference. In February.
For the regular readers who may be wondering.
Cam Christie (we’ll get back to him in a second) led all scorers with 19 points.
The game was fun as hell, but before talking about the game specifically, I want to talk about the Barn. Early on when Minnesota took an early lead on a Cam Christie three pointer the Barn sounded on television what the Barn is supposed to sound like—loud and rocking. I have missed that sound for the last few years. Baby Eagle correctly noted at the end of the game that there are few more fun places in the country to see a game when it is full and energized.
In the first half, Parker Fox had the best four minutes from a role player that I can remember since Charles Buggs went ham against Iowa. It was needed because you, a regular watcher of this program, will be SHOCKED to know that the Gophers’ offense was generally putrid in the first half. .9 points per possession on 10-27 from the field and 4-14 from distance is no way to go through life. The Gophers went nearly 10 minutes scoring from the field three times. Fortunately, Minnesota’s defense was generally stout on the interior and Michigan State’s 62% from distance was unlikely to be sustainable, so being down 32-27 was not particularly dire.
The second half started out poorly for the Gophers, who decided to make it harder than they needed to on offense. Credit to the Spartans, who did the game scout well to find ways to neutralize Garcia and Payne getting the ball in the low block. Michigan State went on a 9-3 run to extend the lead to 8 points at the under 12. It was at this point that Cam Christie entered the chat. Christie had 14 of his 19 points in the second half, shooting 80% from distance. The freshman who looks to be a shoe-in for another Big Ten freshman of the week performance continued his torrid offensive pace and Michigan State had no real answer beyond just straight ball denial. With Christie being heavily guarded, the interior opened up again for Pharrel Payne and Dawson Garcia. Payne shot 50% from the free throw, and I know that sounds terrible, but it is also 12% higher than his season average. Garcia hit two tough twos late and a key three pointer.
Four factors say shoot the ball well, rebound the ball well, don’t turn the ball over, make your free throws. Minnesota won three of four. Personally I was thrilled that the Gophers did a better job cleaning the glass against a deep Spartans front court.
Elijah Hawkins iced the game like a true PG and leader should. What a great get he has turned out to be this season.
The Spartans were 41% from the free throw line (7-17). The Gophers were 12-19. There’s your ball game.
Minnesota next plays Iowa on Sunday in Iowa City.