MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kalin Lucas scored 18 points for Michigan State, and the Spartans harassed Minnesota into a season-low score by outlasting the Gophers 53-48 on Tuesday night in a matchup of two Big Ten teams sitting squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.
Draymond Green, who didn’t start the last game because of an illness, returned to the first group and had seven points with 10 rebounds and four steals for the Spartans (16-11, 8-7), who have won three of their last four games after an uncharacteristic midseason slide.
Durrell Summers had his sixth straight single-digit scoring game, shooting 3 for 11, but Michigan State used seven free throws in the final 82 seconds to retake the lead and seal a critical victory.
Trevor Mbakwe had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Gophers (17-10, 6-9), who have lost six of their eight games without injured senior point guard Al Nolen.
Freshman Chip Armelin scored 12 points and Ralph Sampson had 10 points and seven rebounds for Minnesota, which wasted a 47-39 lead and suffered a costly loss. The Gophers were hampered by Michigan State’s backcourt pressure and unable to get many good looks at the basket once they did make it across.
Armelin, after playing so well in the second half, had a chance to tie the game with less than 20 seconds left when his jab step sent his defender falling to the floor. But he didn’t shoot quickly enough, and once he released a 15-foot jumper, there was a hand in his face and the ball hit the rim. Mike Kebler was fouled and made two shots, sealing the game on the other end.
There are a bunch of teams behind Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin, with Michigan State and Minnesota smack in the middle of the group, that need to get on a roll if they want to make the Big Ten more than a three-bid conference this March.
The Spartans lost to Connecticut, Duke, Syracuse and Texas, no knocks against them. They lost by 20 points at Iowa, though, a team the Gophers beat by 15 on the road. Minnesota has wins over North Carolina and Purdue to highlight but hasn’t been able to close out tight games the way Michigan State did against Illinois last weekend.
The NCAA tournament committee has often downgraded teams missing important players, so Nolen’s absence could hurt the Gophers in more ways than one, if he doesn’t return soon. He’s still wearing a walking boot on his broken right foot.
Minnesota has a relatively smoother finish to the regular season, though, with home games against Michigan and Penn State sandwiched around a trip to Northwestern. The Spartans must play Purdue on Sunday and finish at rival Michigan.
No matter what happens down the stretch, this will have been a frustratingly atypical season for Michigan State. From coach Tom Izzo’s summer dalliance with the Cleveland Cavaliers to the one-game suspension Izzo served for an NCAA rule violation to the expulsion of Korie Lucious from the squad to the 67-plus points allowed per game that puts this normally rugged team second to last in the conference in scoring defense, the Spartans have not looked at all like one of the Final Four teams Izzo has produced an average of every other year. They’ve been to 13 straight NCAA tournaments.
Lucas, at least, is back on his game, which made him the Big Ten Player of the Year two seasons ago. He has recovered enough from a rupture of the Achilles’ tendon on his left foot last year to average nearly 22 points and almost 38 minutes over the previous seven games.
The Gophers used their big-guy starting lineup with Mbakwe, Sampson and Colton Iverson, but they had trouble getting the ball into the post and getting open shots once they did. The ballhandling on the perimeter was shaky, too, with Nolen missed dearly.
The Spartans had plenty of their own problems but appeared intent on making fouls a major part of their strategy, a sensible concept with the Gophers shooting barely better than 65 percent from the line, worst in the Big Ten.
Ugliness was abundant in both halves, with Minnesota clinging to a 21-19 lead at the break. Summers turned a steal into a breakaway reverse dunk, but even that wasn’t pretty: He stumbled upon landing and fell on his bottom after giving the Spartans a 25-23 advantage.
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WCCO Radio Interview With Trevor Mbakwe
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