In Minnesota's last road game on Jan. 2, the Gophers hung close with Purdue before running out of energy and falling 83-78 in double overtime. On Thursday, they once again battled tough in a hostile environment, but this time their opponent secured victory by a convincing margin in regulation.
Minnesota (8-7, 2-3 Big Ten) fell to 0-5 in true road games this season, losing to No. 8 Michigan State (13-3, 5-0 Big Ten) 74-58 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan. Though the Gophers remained close for much of the game, the Spartans ultimately proved they were too much to handle.
"We got a little bit fatigued as the game went on and we lost our fundamentals," head coach Richard Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "We were chasing more as the game went on whereas in the beginning I thought we were pretty good. We played hard, we just weren't disciplined for 40 minutes."
The Gophers had no answers for Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman, who scored six points and secured five rebounds before the game's first media time out. After the Spartans jumped out to an 8-2 lead, Minnesota fought back, using an 11-3 run to go in front.
Both sides leaned on their inside scorers for offense in the opening half as sophomore Daniel Oturu scored 14 points for the Gophers while Tillman added 13 for Michigan State before halftime. Tillman and Oturu also battled on the glass, recording 12 and six first-half rebounds respectively.
Senior forward Alihan Demir managed eight points in the first half as 24 of Minnesota's 32 points in the opening period came in the paint. Despite entering the game as underdogs, the Gophers hung around with Michigan State, capitalizing with 12 points off of eight Spartans turnovers in the contest's first 20 minutes.
After intermission, Minnesota struggled to score, failing to make a field goal until Oturu knocked down a 3-pointer 3:20 into the second half. Michigan State's lead swelled to a game-high 11 points with 12:50 remaining. During the middle of the half, both teams' defenses took over. Sophomore Gabe Kalscheur and freshman Tre' Williams knocked down 3-pointers for Minnesota but the Spartans never let the Gophers back within two possessions.
"I thought out fight was good," Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "But we got fatigued and we lost out principles."
Over the final four minutes, Michigan State pulled away, closing out the game on a 13-6 run. Spartans senior Cassius Winston finished as the game's leading scorer with 27 points after a flurry of made baskets down the stretch. Tillman was the only other Michigan State scorer in double figures with 19 points and 16 rebounds, seven of which were offensive boards. The Spartans pulled down 19 offensive boards as a team and out-rebounded the Gophers 48-30 overall.
"We didn't finish the possession," Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "You play good defense but you have to block them out. Michigan State offensive rebounding isn't a new thing by any means."
Once again, Oturu led the way for Minnesota with a 22-point, 10-rebound double-double. Demir contributed 10 points and eight rebounds while redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr scored 11 points but shot just 3-11 from the floor. The Gophers' other starting guards, Kalscheur and redshirt junior Payton Willis, who made his first start since sustaining an injury on Dec. 15 also struggled to find open looks. Willis and Kalscheur scored seven and five points respectively, combining to shoot 5-16 from the floor.
The defeat at Michigan State represents the beginning of a challenging stretch for Minnesota. Four of the Gophers' next five opponents are currently ranked in the AP top-25. Minnesota returns to The Barn on Sunday, hosting No. 19 Michigan before welcoming No. 20 Penn State on Jan. 15.
"Back home, our guys will be excited, about it," Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "They're disappointed about this one but they know you have to win at home."