Following Wednesday’s victory against Iowa, head coach Tom Izzo questioned his team’s ability to find a sense of urgency.
The MSU men’s basketball team found it on Saturday – just in the nick of time.
The No. 6 Spartans overcame a 13-point deficit in the second half and were able to hold off Minnesota in the final seconds, winning 65-64 to hand the Golden Gophers their first home loss of the season.
MSU (17-3 overall) has now won 11 of their past 12 Big Ten road games. It also is the second time in school history the Spartans have begun conference play 7-0.
“We didn’t play great for a lot of that game,” Izzo told the Spartan Sports Network. “It says something about the character of this team to bounce back.”
The Spartans got off to their typical slow start – not hitting their first field goal until five minutes into the game – and fell behind 12-3 with the hostile Williams Arena crowd on top of them.
The Spartans were able to weather the storm and used three-point shots to get back in the game.
But small mistakes turned into big ones when the Gophers twice nailed three-point shots following a missed layup by the Spartans. Minnesota won each battle for loose balls and built a double-digit lead late in the first half.
The Spartans went into the locker room at halftime down 34-26.
The tough defense of the Gophers held MSU to just 28 percent shooting in the first half. Junior guard Kalin Lucas was the most effective Spartan – scoring 10 first-half points on 4-for-10 shooting.
The Gophers’ lockdown defense was paired with their effective 50 percent shooting in the half.
A quick five points by the Gophers gave them a 13-point lead and it appeared the Spartans would be run out the gym. But just as in the first half, three-point buckets kept the Spartans in it.
In the final 10 minutes, sophomore forward Raymar Morgan led the Spartan charge down the stretch as MSU cut it to a one-possession game with three minutes to play. Morgan played the final 17 minutes with four fouls, never picking up his fifth.
Two free throws by Morgan tied the game with two minutes to play, the first tie of the game since tip-off.
After a defensive stop, Lucas hit a 3-pointer out of a timeout to give MSU a 65-62 lead – the Spartans’ first lead of the game.
“I thought all along the two guys that have to come through are Lucas and Morgan.,” Izzo said.
Minnesota forward Damian Johnson made a layup to cut MSU’s lead to one with 55 seconds left.
MSU failed to score on their next possession and Minnesota called a timeout to set up a play with 14 seconds to go. A drive by Minnesota’s Lawrence Westbrook was thwarted and the Gophers missed two tip-ins as MSU was able to escape.
MSU outscored the Gophers 20-9 in the final nine minutes.
“What an incredible defensive stand at the end,” Izzo said. “We switched everyone.”
MSU now has a two-game lead in the Big Ten race and will travel to Ann Arbor Tuesday to face Michigan.
Lucas led the Spartans with 22 points and Morgan chipped in 17. Despite the great play from his two stars, head coach Tom Izzo said the game MVP went to someone else.
“The MVP of the night, really, was the big fella, because (freshman center Derrick) Nix made the free throw,” Izzo joked of Nix, who entered the game shooting 16 percent from the line. “That was the margin of victory.”