Minnesota fans had seen this horror flick before. In fact, it was eerily similar to a forgettable event on the same day in 2011.
Despite holding a 9-point lead with 10 minutes to go, the Golden Gophers knew the Spartans weren't dead. And thanks to some shaky ballhandling and absolutely no composure under pressure, Michigan State finished the game on a 14-3 run for a 66-61 victory. (Minnesota had just two field goals in the final 10 minutes, the last being a meaningless 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds to play).
Ironically, the script was almost identical to the game from Feb. 22, 2011 - exactly one year earlier. With 3:41 to play in that game, the Spartans trailed the Gophers, 47-39. MSU won thanks to some clutch play down the stretch, 53-48.
In 2010, Minnesota led MSU for most of the game at Williams Arena. With 4:47 to go, the Gophers had a 62-58 lead, one that was already dwindling thanks to a disappearing offense and some come-alive play from Kalin Lucas. Lucas made all of his shots in the second half, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:27 to play as the Spartans escaped with a 65-64 victory.
Like the previous two instances, Wednesday's game was won with defense. That said, it wasn't a pretty defensive effort; it was just more timely. The Spartans surrendered more than a point per possession, even with Minnesota turning the ball over 15 times.
Below is the Defensive Score Sheet for the game. (For clarification on the numbers, what they mean, and how they're calculated, read this post). The most important number is each player's defensive rating (DRtg). Its calculations project if "Player X" was on the floor for 100 of his team's defensive possessions, how many points the opposition would score. Keep in mind the team's overall defensive numbers play a huge factor, but even small variances from the team's DRtg are significant.
3 Takeaways from Michigan State 66, Minnesota 61
1. The fact MSU won with horrendous defensive games from Draymond Green and Keith Appling says a lot about this team. It was clear during the game that Day-Day was missing some energy, especially on the defensive end. He was late on switches and allowed Rodney Williams some basically uncontested and easy looks in the paint. Appling seemed to be single-handedly killing MSU's comeback chances. After receiving a technical foul - which MSU blogger Chris Vannini does a nice job discussing here - that resulted in two freebies, Appling fouled two jump shooters which "gave" the Gophers five more points from the charity stripe. It's crazy how, even with Appling bailing out Minnesota with seven points that the Gophers still choked the game away.
2. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, or the more likeable combo name Derrick Payne, both had great games in the post. Usually one of MSU's bigs has to protect the rim but not both. With Green and Appling both struggling, the key to victory might have been both of MSU's centers providing much energy on defense. Yes, Ralph Sampson III dropped in a few beautiful hooks and a couple turnaround Js, but none of the looks were easy.
3. Austin Thornton didn't let his disgusting offense turn into repulsive defense. While he contributed nothing offensively (0 for 5 shooting including 0 for 4 from 3-point range), Thornton did a nice job on whoever he guarded. Whether it was Joe Coleman or Rodney Williams, neither could put the game away and much of that credit goes to the fifth-year senior who is finally realizing his role.