Thursday night’s matchup with the Minnesota Golden Gophers had “trap game” written all over it.
With Minnesota (17-12, 6-10) struggling through conference play and a showdown with Wisconsin looming, MSU (19-9, 10-5) found themselves on the wrong side of an unexpected barnburner. Richard Pitino’s squad played much better than their record indicated, coming away with a 96-90 overtime win.
“The better team won tonight,” said Izzo after the game. “It’s a sickening loss.”
The Breslin Center crowd grew restless late in the second half, trying to will their Spartans to victory while sweating out the final minutes. A Denzel Valentine three-pointer gave the Spartans a one-point lead with 6:18 remaining. But turnovers plagued MSU and the Gophers were able to capitalize.
Travis Trice proved he has ice water in his veins, beating the shot clock with a step-back three to tie the game with 2:15 left. The Gophers responded with a bucket of their own, but Trice hit another corner bomb to regain the edge. MSU forced a turnover on the ensuing possession, leading to a rim-rattling slam from Branden Dawson that blew the roof off the Breslin Center.
With MSU up five, Minnesota’s Joey King drew a foul while shooting a three with 14.5 seconds remaining. He hit all three free throws with nothing but net. Valentine split his free throws to extend the lead to three, but Carlos Morris hit a three and was fouled in the act. With everyone in the building on their feet, Morris missed the free throw and the game went to overtime.
A pair of Minnesota free throws gave the Gophers a five-point lead with two minutes to play. A loose-ball foul on Trice again sent Minnesota to the line, where they were automatic. The deficit grew to seven. Ineptitude at the line reared its ugly head for the Spartans in the extra frame, leading to their demise. The Golden Gophers stole a win at the Breslin Center, 96-90.
“We’re not that good to have a trap game,” Izzo said. “You have to be really good and playing a dog.”
Free throws were the Achilles heel once again for the Spartans, as they missed nine in the second half and overtime. Defense was another glaring issue, as the Gophers shot nearly 52 percent from the field and 43 percent from beyond the arc.
“Tonight a couple of our team members were not with it so our team defense wasn’t there,” Izzo said.
The Spartans had only given up more than 70 points four times this season before Thursday’s loss.
“To score 96 points in one of the toughest environments in college basketball, versus one of the elite programs and one of the best coaches says a lot about our team,” said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino after the game.
Valentine led all scorers with 27 points, including seven three-pointers despite tweaking his ankle early in the game. Trice added a double-double off the bench with 21 points and 10 assists. Morris for Minnesota scored 20 points on 7-10 shooting. Andre Hollins also had 17 in the winning effort.
The Spartans have perhaps their toughest game of the season on Sunday, when they have to travel to the Kohl Center to face off with Wisconsin. The showdown in Madison is even more important now, with the Spartans likely returning to the precarious spot on the bubble. The game is at 4 p.m. and can be seen on CBS.
Blake Froling is the co-host of Impact Izzone for Impact Sports.