In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the No. 10 seed Gophers faced a familiar foe in No. 2 seed Michigan State. Minnesota knew they were in for a tough matchup because the Spartans entered as Big Ten Tournament champions and winners of 11 of their last 12 games, including a 79-55 over the Gophers on Feb. 9.
Seeking their first official round of 16 appearance since 1990 (excluding the vacated Final Four appearance in 1997), Minnesota (22-13, 9-11) fell short. Michigan State (30-6, 16-4) proved too much, controlling the game throughout, ultimately securing a 70-50 victory.
"They're a really good team," head coach Richard Pitino said of Michigan State. "To go on to the Sweet 16, obviously, coach [Tom] Izzo with what he's accomplished. It's a testament to that program. They have some really good players and obviously they're really well coached."
Michigan State began the game in a dominant fashion, going on an 11-0 run after Minnesota scored the game's first basket. A number of poor shots and lapses on transition defense put the Gophers behind early.
Once again, inconsistent 3-point shooting plagued Minnesota early on. After making 11 3-pointers from behind the arc in their opening-round victory over Louisville, the Gophers shot just 2-22 from behind the arc on Saturday.
Weathering the initial Michigan State surge, junior Amir Coffey made the Gophers' only 3-pointer in the opening 12 minutes which cut the Spartans' lead to 14-9. However, Michigan State responded with a 17-2 run and gained a 20-point lead.
Battling a sore back, senior Jordan Murphy started the game but went to the bench after the first four minutes. He checked in again briefly in the waning seconds to receive a standing ovation from the crowd. Despite the disappointing end to his career, his teammates know he has a bright future.
"Murphy's been to hell and back," said freshman Jarvis Omersa. "He's fought through it all. In the long run, he'll get what he deserves."
Also without back-up forwards redshirt senior Matz Stockman and redshirt sophomore Eric Curry, Minnesota was vulnerable on the interior. Michigan State exposed the Gophers' lack of depth inside, outscoring them in the paint 22-10 in the first half.
Minnesota forced 11 turnovers before intermission and ended the first half on a 8-2 to cut the Spartans' lead to 14. A 9-0 run early in the second half then cut Michigan State's advantage to single digits, energizing the many Gophers fan who traveled south to Des Moines, Iowa.
However, Michigan State junior Cassius Winston, the Big Ten Player of the Year, scored seven unanswered points in a 57-second span to make the score 47-31. That started a 15-4 run, which eventually gave the Spartans a 22-point lead, sealing the result.
"We had the momentum, crowd got into it, and then Cassius just hit some big shots," Coffey said. "We had it going a little bit and then Cassius just came through."
Coffey finished the game with 27 points, making him the only Gopher in double digits. Sophomore Isaiah Washington scored nine points, his first since Feb. 6. Omersa played a season-high 25 minutes and led the team with seven rebounds. In the final game of his college career, senior Dupree McBrayer failed to score, going 0-7 from the field.
With the season over, McBrayer and Murphy will depart after successful four-year tenures with Minnesota. The Gophers will return three other starters in Coffey and freshmen Gabe Kalscheur and Daniel Oturu.
"It stings, but I'm really proud of what our guys did this year," Pitino said. "It's the second time we won a tournament game in 29 years. A lot of those guys in that locker room, Dupree McBrayer and Jordan Murphy, went to two NCAA Tournaments and battled through a lot of adversity. [I'm] so proud of those guys."