MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Michigan State weathered another sluggish start, then wore down Minnesota.
The Spartans reasserted themselves after a rough loss, and the Gophers paid the price.
Cassius Winston had 18 points and eight assists and Xavier Tillman added 17 points and 10 rebounds, as 11th-ranked Michigan State cruised to a second victory over Minnesota in three weeks, 70-52 on Sunday.
“We did a good job this game of just stepping on the gas and making them shoot tough shots,” Tillman said, “and making sure we got those defensive rebounds.”
After falling 67-63 at Indiana three days ago, the Spartans (15-5, 7-2) stayed on the road for focus and bonding and kept pace with Illinois to stay in a first-place tie in the Big Ten. The Spartans held the Gophers (11-9, 5-5) to season lows in field goal (28.1%) and 3-point (17.9%) shooting and cut their turnover total from eight in the first half to just three in the second half.
“They just keep coming at you. They’ve been that way for a long time,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.
Minnesota’s three starting guards, Marcus Carr, Gabe Kalscheur and Payton Willis, were a combined 7 for 32 from the floor. Daniel Oturu led the Gophers with 19 points, Kalscheur chipped in 15 points and Carr finished with 11 points, but the Gophers took their first home loss in Big Ten play after winning their first four.
“I felt for Richard, because I’ve been there,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
With 12 of the 14 teams in the top 50 entering this week in the NCAA’s NET rankings that help determine the NCAA Tournament field, the Big Ten is as strong as ever. Home teams were 41-7 in conference play at the beginning of the week, but the Spartans gave the visitors a seventh victory in seven days.
Backed by their biggest and loudest crowd of the season, announced at 12,114, the Gophers bungled a golden opportunity to build a lead in the first half with some shaky jump-shooting. They missed 19 of their first 23 attempts from the floor, including 12 of 13 from 3-point range, while spoiling a spirited effort on defense against the potent Spartans. Some of them were prime looks at the basket, but the ball just wasn’t dropping in. The Gophers were scoreless for a 5:22 stretch, while the Spartans went on a 12-0 run to take a 22-9 lead.
“Our spirit got zapped a little bit,” Pitino said.
Michigan State’s slow starts of the previous two road games at Indiana and Purdue showed up again. The difference was the defense this time, preventing the fans from ever becoming a significant factor in the flow of the game. They were ready to roar a bunch of times before the break, with a groan and an exhale following each untimely miss by Minnesota.
“They were there for us. We just didn’t show up for them,” Carr said.
Carr, who delivered the tiebreaking 3-pointer in the closing seconds on Thursday at Ohio State, fouled Winston at the top of the key as he swished a 3-pointer in the opening minute of the second half. Winston converted the four-point play for a 34-22 lead, and the Spartans stayed at a double-digit-point advantage for the most of the rest of the game. The Gophers were within six at the 17-minute mark, but they never came closer.
Carr stole the ball from Hall for a breakaway at the midpoint of the second half, but he tried and missed a dunk off the front rim instead of laying it up in an awkward moment of apparent indecision while the Gophers trailed 53-40. They had a stretch of 7:07 without a basket, missing eight attempts, until Carr’s three-point play cut the lead to 54-45.
Winston and the Spartans always had an answer, though, whether with a clutch 3-pointer or a well-executed pick-and-roll.
Players didn’t find out about the death of NBA great Kobe Bryant until after the game. Oturu, a huge fan, was in tears afterward, Pitino said.
Minnesota held a halftime ceremony to honor Willie Burton, the program’s third all-time leading scorer. Burton, whose guests included his coach Clem Haskins, helped the Gophers reach the final eight of the NCAA Tournament as a senior in 1990 on a team that had six players appear in the NBA. Burton, who was the ninth overall pick in the draft by Miami, would have gone to Michigan State had he not chosen Minnesota. Izzo recruited him as an assistant for the Spartans.
Burton, who returned to the university in 2013 to complete his degree, works with youth and athletics for the public school system in his native Detroit. Burton joined Lou Hudson, Charley Mencel, Trent Tucker, Whitey Skoog, Mychal Thompson, Kevin McHale, Randy Breuer, Jim Brewer and Dick Garmaker with their numbers on banners in the rafters.
Michigan State: Rocket Watts (10 points) and Malik Hall (seven points, six rebounds) responded well to their insertion in the starting lineup, with Marcus Bingham Jr. and Aaron Henry relegated to a reserve role, with Izzo pushing Henry in particular to play more consistently.
“I think Henry had a great attitude,” Tillman said. “He came off the bench and made some huge plays, played really hard.”
Minnesota: Pitino fell to 2-9 overall against Michigan State in seven seasons. He’s 0-4 at home against the Spartans.
Michigan State: Hosts Northwestern on Wednesday.
Minnesota: Plays at Illinois on Thursday.
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