It was another thriller at Breslin Center, with the No. 5 men’s basketball team outscoring Minnesota 16-4 in overtime to take down the 87-75 victory.
After being deadlocked at 71 at the end of regulation, the Spartans exploded to put up a 16-4 difference in overtime.
“We just really took an emphasis on the defensive end (in overtime),” sophomore guard Gary Harris said.
After going into halftime down 41-36 and allowing Minnesota to shoot 7-of-12 from behind the arch in the first half, the Spartans used a 15-0 run in the middle of the second half to get them back into the game. During that stretch the Spartans grabbed three offensive rebounds and forced the Gophers into turning the ball over five times, a stat line Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino said was his team’s downfall.
“I thought we had a couple of empty possessions, and by that I mean turnovers, and then they had a couple of segments where they got some big offensive rebounds,” Pitino said. “It was the little things, like the free throws and rebounding”
During the second half run the Spartans forced Minnesota into five turnovers, but more impressively kept them from making a field goal during a 13 minute-long stretch.
The Spartan also struggled from the field in the second half by turning in a 8-of-26 shot chart, but both teams cashed in on the combined 64 free throw attempts to keep them competitive.
That inflated number is a product of the highly-scrutinized rule change implemented this season, and head coach Tom Izzo said it’s difficult for all involved to run a smooth game.
“There are some plays I am mind-boggled by how they’re called,” Izzo said. “I think (the refs) are too … players don’t know how to play, coaches don’t know how to coach and referees don’t know how to referee. That’s my humble opinion.”
The biggest moment from the free throw line came with 12 second left on the clock, and a 71-69 MSU lead with Harris on the line.
He came up short on both attempts and left the door for Minnesota wide open with the clock ticking down, giving guard DeAndre Mathieu a chance to drive down the court for an easy layup to send the game to overtime.
“I was trying to shoot a three,” Pitino said. “I think it was like a broken play … but we were shooting too many jump shots and I just wanted to get to the rim.”
Harris was down on himself after the two misses, but said his mind was clear right before overtime kicked off.
“I should have made those free throws” Harris said. “But, I mean, my team really helped me through it and we really put it on them in over time.”
The Spartans quickly regained their mojo in overtime, opening up on an 8-0 run generated by four points by Appling. He finished with a team-high 24 points, with Harris trailing closely behind at 19 points.
The hottest hand of the day belonged to redshirt freshman forward Kenny Kaminski, who nailed his first five 3-point attempts and finished with 15 points. MSU head coach Tom Izzo said Kaminski was key in breaking the zone defense, especially with senior forward Adreian Payne out due to injury and junior guard Travis Trice coming off illness.
“That zone, which we have had no problems with zone, but I think of Trice and Payne are two of my zone-busters” Izzo said. “So (Minnesota) gave us problems, and Kenny raised it up.”
With Payne sidelined for the game, it was Matt Costello and Alex Gauana’s time to shine, and the duo came out to combine for nine points and ten rebounds.
Junior forward Branden Dawson also made his presence known after halftime, grabbing nine rebounds and chipping in six points. It was a surge for Dawson, who walked into the locker room with no points and three rebounds. After the game, he said a combination of self-motivation and relying on his team to fire him up for the second half.
“I was kind of out of it, I just didn’t seem like myself,” Dawson said. “I felt like I let my team down, so I kept talking with the team and they just told me ‘Hey, we need you this half,’ and I just told myself I needed to pick it up.”
The slow start for Dawson was apparent to Izzo, who said the criticism he has received since the North Carolina loss has been a little too harsh. Nonetheless, he still said there is something troubling Dawson that he just can’t put his finger on.
“There is something wrong with Branden, there is no question about it” Izzo said. “You can see it, you don’t have to be a coach. I don’t have a good answer for you.”
Minnesota guard Andre Hollins tied Appling for the game-high with 24 points. Senior guard Malik Smith, who transferred from Florida International this season, also had 17 points, with 11 of them coming in the first half to give Minnesota the early advantage.
“This is a kid last year who was playing in arenas where there was 500 people,” Pitino said. “And then he comes to an arena where there is 15,000 screaming people and he didn’t miss a beat.”
The next contest for the Spartans will come on the road, as they travel to Evanston, Ill. to face 7-9 Northwestern on Wednesday (7 p.m., BTN).