Gophers Drop Tough Game to MSU, 87-57

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn – The Minnesota men’s basketball team dropped their Tuesday evening matchup at Williams Arena by a score of 87-57 against the nation’s No. 2 team, Michigan State. Michigan State, coming off a thrilling buzzer-beating victory over the top-5 ranked Purdue Boilermakers, came to the barn with a chip on its shoulder after missing the top spot in the AP poll in favor of Virginia despite their loss to unranked Virginia Tech.

Minnesota (14-14, 3-12 B1G) had balanced scoring from the three players you would expect to put up decent numbers, but received underwhelming support from the bench and other support players. Freshman Isaiah Washington led the team with 18 points, followed by Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason with 16 and 14 points respectively. Murphy did a bit of everything, adding seven rebounds and four steals in addition to his point total.

Michigan State shot a blistering 63.6 percent from three-point range, and 53.3 percent overall. The Spartans had 15 offensive rebounds alone. To put that in perspective, they missed only 33 shots including free throws. Getting the rebound on nearly half of your misses is a backbreaker for any opponent, nevermind a team who only put up 57 points themselves.

The Spartans were led in scoring by Freshman Jaren Jackson Jr., with 27 points, a career high. Cassius Winston added 12 points despite being held scoreless in the second half, and Gopher kryptonite Nick Ward was a rebound away from a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds. They spread the ball well as a team, assisting on 27-of-32 field goals.

The Gophers got off to a slow start, which was compounded by the continued trend of hot three-point shooting from Minnesota’s opponents. The Spartans hit their first six three-pointers of the game, and their first miss came when Tum Tum Nairn threw up a fadeaway trying to beat the shot-clock even though it had just reset.

At the under-12 media timeout, Minnesota trailed 25-10. Every MSU starter had made at least one basket, including nine points from Cassius Winston on 3-of-3 shooting from three-point range. There were still positives, including a quick start for Washington who led the team in scoring at the break.

Murphy, the double-double machine, did his best to keep the game competitive. At the under-eight media timeout he had two steals as well as two other forced turnovers as a result of his physical presence in the paint.

The Spartans took a 43-25 lead into halftime, which is a surprisingly slim lead for a team with 30 points from beyond the arc. Jackson Jr. led the spartans in scoring with 16 points, and Winston was close behind with a total of 12 points. Those two Spartans alone outscored the entire Gophers roster, shooting a collective 9-of-10.

Murphy was by far the Gophers’ most productive player in the first half. He was nearly on pace for a triple-double with six points, four rebounds, and four steals. Washington led the team in points with eight, and also tied for the team lead in assists with two.

The second half started out much better for the Gophers, both teams were able to match baskets until a quick burst from the Spartans stretched the MSU lead to 24. Shortly after, Murphy got into some foul trouble and had to sit out a good portion of the half with four fouls. This left him with limited minutes and four more rebounds to reach his NCAA leading 22nd double-double of the season.

The lead just continued to grow from there, as MSU took advantage of a Gophers lineup with just one player who saw extended playing time before this season. Murphy checked back in with just over seven minutes remaining in search of four more rebounds to complete his double-double. His foul trouble forced him to play passively on defense, and he was unable to add more than one rebound to his total.

While players like Michael Hurt, Bakary Konate, and Gaston Diedhiou haven’t been posting eye-catching stats in the extended playing time they’ve received as a result of injuries and suspensions, but you can’t overlook the effort they showed against a team as deep as Michigan State.

Prior to this season, Konate and Hurt played very limited minutes and Diedhiou rarely saw playing time, and you can’t blame them for any lack of production. These are players who worked very hard to get where they are today, but aren’t quite polished enough to fill the big roles required to be competitive in the Big Ten.

The Gophers' next game is on the road at Wisconsin, Monday Feb. 19 at 8pm.

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