After finishing up the non-conference schedule against Texas nine days ago, Tom Izzo has been preparing the No. 18 Spartans for the grind of the Big Ten season.
On Monday, the Spartans were reminded exactly the brand of basketball he’s been talking about.
As two of the conference’s six teams currently ranked in the top 25 kicked off the Big Ten season on New Year’s Eve, the Spartans (11-3 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) battled but were bested down the stretch by No. 9 Minnesota (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten), 76-63. The Golden Gophers shot nearly 60 percent from the field and captured the momentum down the stretch to end the 2012 calendar year on a positive note.
Both teams came out of the gate in full stride, trading buckets until the midway point of the first half.
After a layup by Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe at the 11:28 mark, the Golden Gophers went on an 8-0 run over the next two minutes to open up a nine-point lead.
The Spartans battled back to bring the game within four points capped by a layup by senior center Derrick Nix. But the Gophers again caught fire and built a 12-point lead, which was their largest of the half.
Sophomore guard Travis Trice led the charge to bring the Spartans back before halftime. Trice hit a pair of 3-pointers and assisted on a layup by freshman Denzel Valentine in a little more than two minutes to shrink the deficit to four.
A layup with about two minutes to play by freshman guard Gary Harris brought the Spartans within two. However, a jumper by Minnesota forward Oto Osenieks extended the score to 39-35 with 45 seconds remaining in the half.
But as time expired in the half, Trice hit yet another 3-pointer to go into the locker room trailing by a single point. Trice led the Spartans with nine points in the first half and went scoreless in the second.
The Golden Gophers started the second half on a 12-6 run to give them a 51-44 lead.
However, the Spartans used an 11-0 run of their own highlighted with a layup by sophomore guard Branden Dawson to take their first lead of the game at the 14:33 mark.
Late in the half, the Spartans struggled with turnovers and sloppy play, which allowed the Golden Gophers to claw their way back in the game.
After trading scores through the midway point of the half, a goaltending call on junior center Adreian Payne at 6:16 allowed the Gophers to regain the lead, which they held down the stretch.
The clock struck midnight for the Spartans late, as the Gophers went on a 12-0 run to close out the game and walk away the victor in the Big Ten opener.
The Spartans used a balanced scoring attack in the game, led by junior guard Keith Appling and freshman guard Gary Harris who had 15 and 12 points, respectively. Led by guard Andre Hollins with 22 points, Minnesota had four players in double-figures including Mbakwe (11 points), guard Austin Hollins (12 points) and forward Rodney Williams (15 points).
MSU returns home to open up the new year against Purdue at noon on Jan. 5 at Breslin Center.