Heading into the Saturday afternoon contest, Minnesota and No. 9 Michigan State were both struggling. Minnesota suffered consecutive defeats for the first time all season while the Spartans dropped three in a row.
Only a few minutes passed before it became obvious which team would snap their losing streak. Minnesota (16-8, 6-7 Big Ten) fell behind early, allowing the hostile Breslin Center crowd to come alive. Feeding off the energy of the fans, Michigan State (19-5, 10-3 Big Ten) held a double-digit lead for most of the game and defeated the Gophers 79-55. Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino described the defeat in simple terms.
"They were really good, we were really bad," Pitino told the Gopher radio network. "I thought offensively, we were clearly in our heads, certain guys are."
After a 3-pointer from senior Dupree McBrayer gave Minnesota its only lead of the game at 3-2, Michigan State scored 12 straight points. A dunk from redshirt senior Matz Stockman snapped that run, but the Spartans then scored seven more consecutive points to open up a 21-5 lead.
Michigan State neutralized Minnesota's best players. Junior Amir Coffey picked up three fouls in the opening 20 minutes and never scored before halftime. Senior Jordan Murphy managed only five points on one field goal and six rebounds.
After the intermission, Michigan State once again came out firing on all cylinders. In the first eight minutes of the second half, the Spartans outscored the Gophers 26-11. Fueled by the shooting of senior Matt McQuaid, who made four 3-point baskets and totaled 18 points, Michigan State led by as many as 28.
Minnesota was without redshirt sophomore Eric Curry, who missed the game with calf soreness. In his place, freshman Daniel Oturu started for the first time since Jan. 19. Though Oturu made an impact offensively with 12 points, he struggled to defend Michigan State's Nick Ward, who scored a game-high 22 points.
"Clearly, no Eric hurt us," Pitino told Gopher radio network. "They had 40 points in the paint, we were worn down and tired. We have to be healthy, we need Eric, we need those front-court bodies. Hopefully this rest will get him back for Nebraska."
In addition to Oturu, fellow freshman Gabe Kalscheur was a bright spot for the Gophers. He made three of his four 3-point attempts and led the team with 17 points.
Behind the freshmen, McBrayer had the next highest point total with eight. He recorded a personal milestone on his first basket of the game, reaching the 1,000-point mark for his career.
Now below .500 in Big Ten play, Minnesota will hope to snap its losing skid at three games on Wednesday at Nebraska. The Gophers defeated the Cornhuskers in their first meeting, 85-78 on Dec. 5.
"Every team goes through this," Pitino told the Gopher radio network. "You have to keep your head and you have to be positive. We've been fortunate the whole season, we hadn't really gone through a losing streak. You just have to find a way to be positive, get back to work and get better."