MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Minnesota used a better, stronger effort to upset No. 12 Michigan State.
And for Spartans coach Tom Izzo, the blame fell on him.
Vince Grier had 15 points and eight rebounds Saturday, leading the energized Gophers to a 69-55 victory, their first over Michigan State in six tries since January 2003.
“I’ve been a little soft in practice lately, because I’ve been paranoid about this three games in six days,” said Izzo, whose team had won six of its previous seven.
The Spartans (18-6, 6-4 Big Ten), though, were just as quick to credit Minnesota for the outcome.
Zach Puchtel scored 13 points, J’son Stamper added 12 and Adam Boone and Moe Hargrow each had 10 for the Gophers (12-9, 3-7), who have won three of four since shuffling their lineup.
“I think it was a real credit to our guys that they believed in the game plan and how they had to play to win,” coach Dan Monson said.
That included keeping Paul Davis from getting good position in the post, racing after every loose ball, harassing point guard Drew Neitzel, denying Maurice Ager the ball and getting back on defense to keep Michigan State out of the fast break.
Shannon Brown scored 17 of his 19 points after halftime and Davis had 17 points for the Spartans, who were outscored 22-6 over the final 6 1/2 minutes. They went 6 minutes without a field goal down the stretch, until Brown’s meaningless layup with 46 seconds left cut the lead to 65-55.
“It looked like one team wanted it,” Izzo said, “and one team was just playing basketball. … As I told our team, I really do appreciate it when you get what you deserve.”
Minnesota had 17 assists and only eight turnovers, preventing Michigan State from keeping pace with first-place Iowa in the conference race—as a trip to play the Hawkeyes on Tuesday looms large.
“We definitely let an opportunity slip away,” said Ager, who had all six of his points before halftime.
The Spartans rarely get outmuscled and outhustled, but that’s what was happening. Brown started to get free and found his touch early in the second half, and the game was tight and intense from then until Boone’s long jumper with 6:22 left tied it at 49.
But that sparked the Gophers on their game-closing run, and Michigan State faded.
Playing a ranked opponent for the fourth time in five games, Minnesota was full of pep from start to finish—frequently pumping fists, encouraging the fans and bumping chests throughout the afternoon.
“This is a win to remember. It was a great feeling,” said Grier, who gave the Gophers, and the crowd, a big boost with a steal and a sweeping, one-handed dunk at the end of a fast break to give his team a 43-41 lead.
Monson has already used 12 different starting lineups. Though this one includes two walk-ons in Jamal Abu-Shamala and Puchtel to go with Grier, Boone and Stamper, it seems to be his best.
Buoyed by their second road win of the season in seven tries, 77-66 at Penn State on Wednesday, the Gophers controlled the first half with the kind of pesky defense they played routinely on their way to an NCAA tournament appearance in 2005.
Ager picked up three fouls. Brown tried only two shots and the Spartans committed 10 turnovers, against just six assists, in falling behind 31-25 at halftime.
“Things just weren’t going our way,” Davis said.
Puchtel, a thick, scrappy forward who transferred from Harvard because he was bored with the athletic atmosphere in the Ivy League, tangled with Michigan State’s Marquise Gray underneath the basket during a fight for rebounding position early in the second half.
Grier stepped in and confronted Gray, and both got technical fouls. Minutes later, after a few more shoves and glares, the officials made both teams huddle in the lane for a lecture that the rough stuff wouldn’t be tolerated.
Puchtel grinned, when asked about the tussle with Gray.
“We’re tight,” he joked. “I’m making a lot of friends in this league.”
“If you play hard, good things happen to you,” Izzo said. “And that kid plays hard.”