Jan. 22, 2005
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Michigan State's balance and experience were too much for Minnesota.
All those made free throws sure helped, as well.
Alan Anderson scored 13 points on 11-for-12 shooting from the foul line, and the 19th-ranked Spartans sank 26 of 28 free throws to hold off the Gophers 69-55 on Saturday.
"We needed a senior to come through, and he came through," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said, praising Anderson's performance in the city where he once was a star at De La Salle High School.
Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown each added 12 points for the Spartans (12-3, 4-1 Big Ten), who played their usual stifling defense and won their second straight since a 62-59 loss at Wisconsin last Sunday.
Anderson went 5-for-6 at the line in the last minute of a physical game that frequently featured bodies flying and hitting the floor hard.
"It felt great," Anderson said. "Everybody stepped up."
Jeff Hagen, Minnesota's second-leading scorer and emotional leader, made a surprising appearance on his sprained left knee and finished with 16 points. Aaron Robinson added 12 points, and Vince Grier and Brent Lawson each had 10 for the Gophers (13-5, 3-2). They were 14-for-24 at the free-throw line.
"We have a really small margin for error," coach Dan Monson said, "and today we used it up."
Coming off a gutty overtime victory at Ohio State on Wednesday night, in which Hagen got hurt in the first half and didn't return, this was a critical conference game for the Gophers.
Picked by most people to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten, Minnesota has used good defense and teamwork to beat the expectations and already equal last season's conference victory total.
The Gophers' ledger includes losses to two other ranked teams, Alabama and Oklahoma, but Michigan State was arguably their toughest foe to date.
"We had to skip some steps here," Monson said. "We weren't quite good enough."
At week's beginning, the Spartans had a 79.6 free-throw percentage - best in Division I. In winning nine of their last 10 games, they've held opponents to an average of 58 points - and none more than 64.
There was no way Hagen was sitting this one out.
"Just a little tough, but it wasn't terrible," said Hagen, who also aggravated an old injury - sprained left ankle - in the second half. "I don't like missing big games."
Michigan State controlled the paint with a 40-25 rebounding edge and locked down Grier, Minnesota's leading scorer and rebounder, by denying him room to drive and using what Izzo called the six-eye rule. Three defenders, each with both eyes on Grier at all times.
"I knew it was coming," said Grier, whose runner cut Michigan State's advantage to 46-40 with 13:09 remaining. Less than a minute later, Michigan State star Paul Davis was called for his fourth foul and left the game.
The Gophers couldn't capitalize, though, with Hagen hobbling up and down the court and their perimeter shots not falling - as the balanced, more experienced Spartans maintained a safe lead throughout the half.
Grier's bank shot got Minnesota as close as it had been since halftime, 58-53 with 2:14 left, but Anderson followed with a putback on the other end to bump the lead back to seven.
"It's nice to come in here and get a win," guard Tim Bograkos said. "Everybody contributed what they could do, and it worked out."
Hagen, who wore a black brace on his knee, gave the Gophers some energy when he entered the game midway through the first half.
Giving freshman Spencer Tollackson a break, Hagen toiled inside against Davis - a preseason All-Big Ten selection - and helped keep the Spartans from building a lead any bigger than seven. A senior who began his career as a walk-on, Hagen had six points in the final three minutes before intermission.
"It was kind of a heroic deal," Izzo said. "He just sucked it up for the team."
The announced crowd of 12,200 - more than 2,000 short of a sellout - was the largest this season at Williams Arena.