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Preview: MSU men's basketball travels to Minnesota for first Big Ten battle

December 8, 2021
<p>Then-sophomore forward Aaron Henry (11) takes a shot during the game against Minnesota on Jan. 9, 2020, at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Golden Gophers, 74-58.</p>

Then-sophomore forward Aaron Henry (11) takes a shot during the game against Minnesota on Jan. 9, 2020, at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Golden Gophers, 74-58.

Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

Michigan State men’s basketball is riding high after beating Louisville and Toledo with relative ease last week to move to 7-2 on the year. MSU is looking to continue its hot streak as it starts Big Ten play with a trip to Minnesota Wednesday night.

The win over the reigning MAC champions showed some signs of growth for MSU. The Spartans played one of its best halves of basketball in the first half against Toledo, going on a 33-5 run over 12 minutes and only turning it over four times total to take a 20-point lead into halftime.

Michigan State was led on offense by freshman guard Max Christie, who poured in a team-high 14 points while guarding Toledo’s leading scorer in sophomore guard Ryan Rollins, who shot 30% from the field against MSU. The strong performance from Christie earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.

The successful week has the Spartans buzzing before it starts Big Ten play this week with the trip to Minnesota and a home game against Penn State on Saturday.

The Spartans are looking to avenge its loss last season to the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis. Michigan State men's basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo said that last year’s 86-51 loss to Minnesota was one of the most embarrassing losses of his 26-year career at MSU.

“After the embarrassment of last year, one of the worst defeats of my era, I guess we're looking forward to it,” Izzo said in his weekly press conference.

Minnesota is yet another tough opponent for the Spartans, who have had their hands full with tough games in the first month of the season. MSU has played the toughest schedule of anyone in the country, according to the NCAA NET rankings, and the undefeated Golden Gophers will be another difficult challenge.

“I think coach (Izzo) does that every year, like he says every year, 'I schedule hard things on purpose, just so we're ready when the Big Ten comes around, especially with how good the Big Ten's been in recent years,’” junior forward Malik Hall said. “We just want to be ready.”

The Golden Gophers (7-0) are one of 12 undefeated teams that still remain in college basketball under first-year Head Coach Ben Johnson. They are coming off back-to-back victories on the road against power conference teams in Pittsburgh and Mississippi State.

The main contributors are senior guard Payton Willis and sophomore forward Jamison Battle, both of whom transferred to Minnesota this offseason. Willis, an import from Vanderbilt, has been the catalyst offensively, averaging 17.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Battle, a transfer from George Washington, leads the team in scoring with 17.9 points per game on 47.9% shooting from the field.

Izzo had high praise for Johnson and his ability to infuse talent into the Minnesota roster immediately after being hired.

“I know Ben pretty well, I think he's done a h--l of a job there,” Izzo said. “He's got more seniors than a senior citizen home. He's got a lot of elderly players on his team with a lot of experience, including some that have been there and came back after they transferred out. They're shooting the ball extremely well, they're mixing in the four or five transfers. If there's a problem right now, it's depth.”

Michigan State will travel to Minneapolis Wednesday for the game. Tip-off is at 9 p.m. EST Wednesday night and the game will be aired on Big Ten Network.

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