Missed free throws doom MSU in OT loss
East Lansing — Michigan State learned on Thursday night what plenty of Big Ten teams already knew — beating Minnesota is no easy task.
Not even when you lead by six with less than 30 seconds left in the game.
That's exactly the position Michigan State was in against Minnesota, but instead of putting the game away, the Spartans kept the door open with missed free throws, untimely fouls and poor execution as the Gophers took full advantage, going on to earn a 96-90 victory in overtime.
It was the first win at the Breslin Center for Minnesota since 1997 and with just three games to play in the regular season, Michigan State (19-9, 10-5) moved back into bubble territory for the NCAA Tournament.
"I gotta tell you, it's a sickening loss," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I think (Minnesota coach) Richard (Pitino) did a hell of a job. His team lost six games at the start of the year and could have won them all. He deserved to win this game. We had chances, yes, but give his kids credit on the road with what they did."
Michigan State had won four straight coming into the game and six of seven. But the effort it displayed in giving up the most points it has all season was far from what had become the norm.
"We kind of got what we deserved," junior Denzel Valentine said. "We just didn't come out with same energy we've been playing with. I don't know what it was, but we didn't have the same fire and Minnesota came out and played a heck of a game and made a lot of shots."
Valentine scored 27 and Travis Trice had 21, but both missed key free throws. Trice was just 6-for-13 from the line.
Trice managed to make two to put Michigan State ahead 75-69 with 34.5 seconds to play, but Minnesota got a deep 3-pointer form Carlos Morris. Valentine answered with a pair of free throws but Branden Dawson then fouled Joey King on a 3-pointer and King hit all three free throws to make it 77-75.
"I didn't leave my feet on that play, but they made the call," Dawson said.
Valentine then went back to the line with 12.8 seconds left only to miss the first before hitting the second, putting Michigan State ahead, 78-75. Izzo said he didn't plan to foul, and like it did in the loss early this season, that plan haunted the Spartans when Morris hit a three with 2.2 seconds to play. He was also fouled by Gavin Schilling, but missed the free throw.
"I didn't want to foul with that much time left and we weren't shooting free throws well down the stretch, so I didn't want to go with that," Izzo said. "It's a choice I made and a choice I have to live with.
"If guys would do their damn jobs and do what you're supposed to do we wouldn't have been in that position anyway."
In the overtime, Minnesota (17-12, 6-10) took over, taking a seven-point lead and hanging on at the free-throw line. Morris scored 20 to lead the Gophers while King and Andre Hollins had 17 apiece, Maurice Walker scored 15 and DeAndre Mathieu scored 12.
"We made some big-time plays," Pitino said. "To score 96 points in one of the toughest environments in college basketball against an elite program with one of the best coaches says a lot about our team.
"I'm really proud and I told my team before the game to play with the commitment and enthusiasm we had opening night vs. Louisville and they had that tonight."
The Spartans finished the game 19-for-29 from the free-throw line after going 17-for-20 in Sunday's victory over Illinois. Michigan State now heads to first-place Wisconsin on Sunday before closing out next week at home against Purdue and at Indiana.
"We sink or we swim," Trice said. "I think we're gonna fight. We've got nothing but fighters on this team."
Michigan State led 58-51 after a short jumper from Dawson with 12:11 to play, but that's when Minnesota started rallying. The Gophers scored six straight to cut the lead to one and after Bryn Forbes hit one of three free throws — the last was called off on a lane violation — King hit a baseline jumper to tie the game at 59 with 9:51 to play.
However, Trice followed with drive to the hoop and a layup but failed to convert the three-point play when he missed his second free throw of the game. King answered by getting fouled on a 3-pointer and making all of his to give the Gophers a 62-61 lead with 8:20 to play.
Morris extended the lead to 63-61 by splitting a pair of free throws before Valentine put Michigan State back in front by one with his fifth 3-pointer.
But Michigan State turned the ball over on two straight trips and the Gophers went back in front with Mathieu hit a pair of free throws. Walker followed with a jump-hook to give Minnesota a 67-64 lead with 3:52 left in the game.
Trice managed to tie the game at 67 with 2:24 to play on a fade-away 3-pointer with shot clock winding down. But King put Minnesota back in front after he had his shot blocked but scored on the put-back.
That's when Trice nailed another three from the corner and then Valentine came up with loose ball that led to a Dawson dunk and a 72-69 lead for Michigan State with 1:13 to play.
Walker managed to draw a foul on Minnesota's next trip and went to the line for a one-and-one with 1:02 left but missed the front end. Trice answered by splitting a pair and Dawson forced the ball off of Walker on the rebound with 36.1 seconds to play, leading to Trice hitting a pair to put the Spartans ahead, 75-69.