Three days after being largely handled by Ohio State, the Gophers tackled the tall task of taking down the #1 team in the land in a home contest against Michigan State. The Spartans came to town with much less fanfare than 3 years ago when the then-#1 Indiana Hoosiers made came through, ending in an epic upset. A paper tiger #1 team, the Spartans had already lost to Iowa earlier in the week and were set to drop in the rankings in the pending polls. Even more, their best player, Player of the Year candidate Denzel Valentine, was sitting due to injury. Still, it’s not often a #1 team rolls through the Barn.
The Gophers actually put a scare into Michigan State, and trailed by only 2 points with 2 minutes to go. Behind strong performances from Nate Mason, Jordan Murphy and Kevin Dorsey, the Gophers tightened up their defense, battled on the offensive boards for plenty of second chances and minimized their unforced errors to give themselves a shot at pulling the upset. In the end, however, poor shooting doomed them and to another conference loss, ending in a 69-61 defeat.
This is a season of moral victories and if this game was any indication, some of the Minnesota youth is already showing that it can step up to hang with some of the big boys. The team was led once again by Murphy, who actually could have chipped in more than his 14 and 9 line indicates. And Mason tightened up the game with two clutch three pointers late in the game, finishing with a team-high 16 points. Dorsey had a productive day from the floor, scoring 11 points and picking up 25 minutes to reaffirm his health.
Overall, though, the Gophers just couldn’t overcome a terrible shooting day which saw them shoot 34 percent from the floor and hit only 5 of 20 three point attempts. They were good looks, but they simply didn’t go down. Pitino brought that very issue up in a pregame interview saying he liked the shot selection but just needed to see the shots start dropping. I guess that’s the next step.
Joey King and Carlos Morris need to step up – Once again, it was the freshmen and sophomores leading the charge during the game and taking control, not the upperclassmen. Aside from hitting some free throws down the stretch, King was largely ineffective, while Morris left something to be desired from the floor. As the season becomes more about developing some cohesiveness for next season and getting the young guys as much experience as possible, the roles of King and Morris get murkier. And unless they’re producing at a high level that warrants lots of minutes, you’d like to see guys like JR Gilbert and Dupree McBrayer getting more minutes.
Bakary Konate wasn’t awful – While he still looks like a lost puppy once he gets the ball, Konate dropped a couple nice shots in what appeared to be coordinated post moves en route to 6 points and 6 rebounds. Still very much a project, he appears to be making the tiniest of steps forward in becoming a serviceable post player. I’m certainly not saying he’s there yet, but in hanging with a team like Michigan State, who has a well-developed interior, seeing Konate not be completely exposed was a step in the right direction.
The shooting continues to be amazingly terrible – Missed threes, duffed bunnies and just bad pull-up jumpers continue to plague the Gophers, so much so that it cost them an upset against the Spartans. A measly 34 percent from the field won’t beat hardly anyone at this level, and Minnesota shot themselves in the foot so many times that it was laughable. In fact, they scored only 2 points in 8 minutes in a crucial stretch in the second half when Michigan State opened up a 10 point lead. As Pitino mentioned, they’re getting great looks and opportunities, but they simply can’t get the ball in the hoop. On one hand it’s great that they’re getting opportunities, but the execution is a real problem.