Trevor Mbakwe watches the Gophers from the bench with foul trouble.

Despite holding the Michigan State Spartans to 25% shooting in the first half and taking a six-point lead into the break, the Gophers were unable to hold off a second-half barrage of threes and suffered a nine-minute stretch in which they scored only three points en route to their second consecutive conference loss.

A frustrating game to watch for sure, considering that Michigan State did all it could in the first half to ensure that the Gophers went into halftime with a lead and control of the game.  The Spartans shot a measly 1-14 from beyond the arc in the opening half, though many of the shots were uncontested.  It felt as though Minnesota was getting off the hook by letting their opponents have easy looks at the basket, and seemed that the Spartans were always on the verge of taking back the game.  It wasn’t that the Gophers were beating them, but more that the Spartans were beating themselves.

The tables completely turned in the second half as Michigan State continued shooting; and the shots started dropping.  Michigan State hit seven of 10 threes in the second half to blow the Gophers away and retake the game.  In embarrassing fashion, Minnesota was completely unable to put up a perimeter defense and was at the mercy of the Spartan sharpshooters.

The Gophers didn’t do themselves any favors either, hitting only 2-10 three pointers in the second half while enduring a bone-dry offensive outage that lasted over nine minutes and included only three points.  Put the non-execution together with hot three-point shooting from MSU and you have a recipe for a loss.

And a loss was just what the Gophers received.  In the midst of the hardest portion of their schedule, the Gophers still must travel to Ohio State and face Purdue in two of their next three games.  Going 0-2 on the road against tough teams is nothing to push the panic button about, but facing such talent is quickly exposing the problems that we feared Minnesota might have.  They are susceptible to a stagnant half-court offense at times and simply cannot figure it out with their perimeter defense.  The Minnesota defense is based around taking away the inside presence, and it has been very effective at doing so.  However, the fact that teams can toss up three-ball after three-ball and have success doing so is very concerning.  Big Ten-caliber players will make open threes if you give them the chance, and we are seeing that teams are not afraid to try to beat the Gophers from downtown.

Who did what:

  • Trevor Mbakwe led all Gopher scorers with 17 points and just missed a double-double with nine rebounds.  However, Mbakwe’s impact was slightly mitigated due to foul trouble and he found himself on the bench for nearly half of the game.  Mbakwe’s presence was felt in the first half, though, when he went off for six straight points after getting called for an intentional foul on Durrell Summers.  It was refreshing to see the physical element that Mbakwe brought to the game, as it’s been a while since we’ve seen that type of intensity from a Gopher on the court.  Michigan State also didn’t seem to have an answer for Mbakwe when he was in the lineup, which makes his foul trouble all the more frustrating.
  • Rodney Williams wasn’t nearly as impactful, registering only four points while picking up four fouls in extended time.  It continues to look as though Williams is a bit lost on the court and doesn’t seem to be able to do much with the ball once he has it.  With his size and athleticism, Williams has the capability to create mismatch problems for other teams; he just needs to up his awareness a bit more.
  • Ralph Sampson III had a pedestrian game against a relatively undersized Michigan State squad.  Sampson picked up seven points, but more importantly did not turn the ball over and only picked up one foul.  Whether or not that means he wasn’t playing aggressively is another story.
  • Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph had quiet games as well, scoring only nine points total.  Distressing is the fact that Joseph, the team’s main offensive threat, was only able to pick up five points.  He did a good job of taking care of the ball and not chucking up awful shots, but was also unable to really generate much offense on his own.  Nolen had four turnovers to match his four points but was able to obstruct the Michigan State offense when he was out there and continues to be the team’s best defender.
  • Blake Hoffarber had a solid game again, scoring 12 points including three three-pointers.
  • Colton Iverson saw extended minutes with Mbakwe on the bench with foul trouble and scored seven points in 21 minutes.  Though he put up a decent point total and played big on the defensive side, Iverson really didn’t play to his potential against the Spartans.  Often he would receive the ball in the post and fail to convert, as evidenced by his 2-6 shot total.  If he is going to be getting bigger minutes with Mbakwe and foul trouble and Mo Walker on the shelf, he’ll have to improve his offensive game to make himself valuable.
  • Chip Armelin played the most  minutes (15) he had since November 24th and scored six points.  Armelin brings a nice intensity off the bench and, given more experience, looks to be a good addition once he gets more comfortable.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Holt, Star Tribune