No. 17 Spartans look to halt skid at No. 21 Minnesota
It's a little early to talk about must wins. Even so, Michigan State can't afford many more missteps if it wants to contend for the Big Ten championship.
After going undefeated in non-conference play, the Spartans dropped their first two conference games.
They were blindsided by Northwestern, 79-65, on Dec. 20, then got outplayed in the second half of an 85-76 home loss to No. 9 Wisconsin on Friday.
The 17th-ranked Spartans (6-2, 0-2) play No. 21 Minnesota in Minneapolis on Monday.
Michigan State trailed by double digits throughout the second half against the Wildcats. They were outscored 43-34 in the second half by the Badgers.
"We did do some really good things," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "We played harder, and were, I thought, much more in-tune to the game. We just made some mistakes when it was a two to three point game in those last four minutes and just couldn't get it done. So I'm disappointed, but I feel like we took a step forward."
Wisconsin's senior-laden team punished the Spartans for every mistake, scoring 24 points off 14 turnovers.
"It's disappointing when you get a nine-point lead and then you just don't step on their throat," Izzo said.
The Spartans don't have a clear-cut No. 1 option on offense but Joey Hauser stood out in the Christmas Day game. Hauser had 27 points, seven rebounds and two assists.
Aaron Henry will look to bounce back on Monday after committing seven turnovers.
"Aaron struggled turning the ball over, made some great plays and also missed layups," Izzo said.
The Golden Gophers (8-1, 1-1) have displayed a fearsome offense in recent games, reaching the 90-point mark in three of their last four outings.
They upset No. 4 Iowa in overtime, 102-95, on Friday. Marcus Carr poured in 30 points and Brandon Johnson fired in 26 off the bench, including an 8-for-9 performance on 3-point attempts.
"He was just confident and came in ready to go," coach Richard Pitino said of Johnson. "He got a lot of rhythm shots and he knocked them down with confidence. That confidence and that momentum built. He is a very skilled player and he's just been a little bit hobbled with injuries, but he is getting healthy. He provided in a huge way for us."
The Gophers defeated non-conference opponent St. Louis and the Hawkeyes after getting thumped 92-65 by Illinois in their Big Ten opener.
"We are a pretty motivated team. We just talked about what Illinois did to us and didn't get negative or lose hope," Pitino said. "It was one game and we had to get back to work, which is what we did. We didn't even watch the film on it. We just addressed it and moved on. We beat a top-25 team in St Louis, and we beat a team that people think can go to the Final Four."
Johnson will have a little extra motivation on Monday. He played his first three seasons at Western Michigan and was held to four points on 2-of-9 shooting by the Spartans last season.
"I didn't have the best performance," he said. "I was injured, but I told myself I was not missing the game for the world. I am looking forward to it this season."
--Field Level Media
Updated December 28, 2020