Spartans Slide Past Gophers, 53-48
Feb. 22, 2011
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Michigan State's victory over Minnesota was, to coach Tom Izzo, "about as ugly as it gets."
Poise might not always be pretty, but the Spartans still have it in this frustratingly atypical season.
Kalin Lucas scored 18 points and the Spartans harassed the Gophers into a season-low score by outlasting them 53-48 on Tuesday night in a matchup of two Big Ten teams sitting squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.
"It builds our confidence more," Lucas said. "This was definitely a great road win for us."
Draymond Green had seven points with 10 rebounds and four steals for the Spartans (16-11, 8-7), who have won three of their last four games after an uncharacteristic midseason slide. Izzo is still searching for the right combinations for his worn-down team, but their refusal to get rattled made him proud and the Gophers jealous.
"Michigan State is a great team," said Minnesota's Ralph Sampson III, who had 10 points and seven rebounds. "They've been in that position before, and they knew how to come back at us."
Durrell Summers had his sixth straight single-digit scoring game, shooting 3 for 11 and finishing with seven points, but he made a key three-pointer with less than 3 minutes left that cut Minnesota's lead to 47-46. Michigan State used seven free throws in the final 82 seconds to retake the lead and seal a critical victory.
Trevor Mbakwe had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Gophers (17-10, 6-9), who have lost six of their eight games without injured senior point guard Al Nolen. Freshman Chip Armelin scored 12 points, but Minnesota wasted a 47-39 advantage with 4 minutes left and suffered a costly loss. The Gophers were hampered by Michigan State's backcourt pressure and unable to get many good looks at the basket once they did make it across.
Armelin, after playing so well in the second half, had a chance to tie the game with less than 20 seconds left when his jab step sent his defender falling to the floor. But he didn't shoot quickly enough or drive to the basket, and once he released a 15-foot jumper, there was a hand in his face. The ball hit the rim, Mike Kebler was fouled and made two shots, and the game was sealed.
The Gophers played a 2-3 zone with some success, but it's vulnerable to offensive rebounds, and the Spartans took advantage at key points. That included the final minute, when Lucas and Green missed shots but Keith Appling got the ball last, drew a foul on Blake Hoffarber and a gripe from the Gophers and sank two free throws.
"I like the pressure," Appling said. "You've just got to step up and knock them down."
The NCAA tournament committee has often downgraded teams missing important players, so Nolen's absence could hurt the Gophers in more ways than one if he doesn't return soon. He's still wearing a walking boot on his broken right foot.
"It's healing," coach Tubby Smith said. "You can't rush Mother Nature. So we just have to wait on it."
"We have the same mentality," Summers said. "We want to win every game, but it's magnified a little more. Each possession, little mistakes here and there are critical just because it can cost us the game."
The Spartans appeared intent on making fouls a major part of their strategy, a sensible concept with the Gophers shooting barely better than 65% from the line, worst in the Big Ten. Their other goal was to hound Hoffarber, who's playing out of position in Nolen's place.
"We just said we're going to Velcro him," Izzo said.
Hoffarber was scoreless in the second half with Lucas smothering him and finished 1 for 8 from the field with five points, his fewest since the season opener.
"It's going to be tough to score when he's right in your jock," Smith said.
A glum-sounding Smith, who fidgeted often with the stats packet and barely looked up during his postgame news conference, lamented that 10 of their 15 turnovers were charged to upperclassmen.
"We just have to make better decisions," he said.
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