No. 6 Michigan State survives Minnesota, 65-64
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (AP)—Tom Izzo looked Kalin Lucas in the eye during a late timeout and told him about certain times in a game when players become great.
Lucas got the message, hitting a 3-pointer with 1:27 left to break a tie and help give No. 6 Michigan State a 65-64 win over shorthanded Minnesota on Saturday.
Lucas finished with 22 points and Raymar Morgan added 17 in a game that the Spartans never led until Lucas’s 3-pointer broke a 62-all tie.
“He told me just to take over,” Lucas said. “We tried to run a play, but the play didn’t work, so I just made a great move and the shot went in.”
The Spartans (17-3) have won eight straight overall and matched their best start in the Big Ten since also starting 7-0 during the 1977-78 season.
Minnesota answered Lucas’s 3 with a basket by Damien Johnson to trim the lead to one. The Gophers denied Chris Allen a runner on defense, grabbed possession and called timeout with 14.7 seconds left.
After setting up a play, Lawrence Westbrook unloaded in the lane with 3 seconds left. His contested shot came up short, and Blake Hoffarber’s tip at the buzzer bounced off the backboard as the Spartans streamed off their bench and onto the court.
“Pretty deflating loss there. To beat a good team like Michigan State you have to finish,” Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. “We were a little bit winded at the end and I thought it led to us losing some of our aggression.”
Westbrook and Devoe Joseph led the Gophers (12-7, 3-4) with 16 points each, and Westbrook became the 35th Minnesota player to reach 1,000 points.
Joseph was playing for regular starting point guard Al Nolen, who was ruled academically ineligible earlier this week.
Joseph likely won’t be able to match Nolen’s aggressive defense, but he brings more offense and athleticism to the Gophers lineup.
“Devoe was just outstanding,” Smith said. “He’s got to be a little more physical, more aggressive. He had some chances to take the ball to the basket and he didn’t.”
Minnesota hoped to contend for a Big Ten title and make a run in the NCAA tournament this season, but off-court issues have gotten in the way. Top recruits Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe have been suspended the entire season because of legal issues, making the departure of Nolen that much harder to overcome.
White, Mbakwe and Nolen all were in street clothes on the Gophers bench.
“Knowing that we’re missing our starting point guard, we came and we fought harder. We fought real hard,” Joseph said.
The Spartans have won 10 of their last 11 road games, but needed to warm up after a poor first half to keep the streak going. They were held to 26 points on 28.6 percent shooting.
“We were getting shots, we were getting some tips, but we just weren’t getting them in,” Izzo said. “In the second half we did more in-and-out to get shots. It was the best Lucas has been all year.”
Lucas hit all four of his shots in the second half, including a 3-pointer with 5 minutes left that cut the lead to two and the go-ahead 3 with 1:27 left.
“We had to grind through that whole game,” Lucas said. “We kept telling our guys that we can get this win. Just be smart and that’s what we did.”
Morgan tied the game with two free throws with 2:24 to play. He also hit all six of his shots and made some key stops on defense down the stretch while playing with four fouls.
“You have to stay aggressive,” Morgan said. “You have to be smarter. It’s all about decisions you make on the floor and the right timing.”
Minnesota scored only six points in the final seven minutes in losing its third straight, with an overtime loss to Indiana sandwiched between two losses to Michigan St. The Gophers led by as many as 13 in the second half.
“We tried to jump on them early, get them out of their comfort zone,” Gophers center Ralph Sampson III said. “Once we did that, you saw Kalin Lucas come out and take over. He just took over for his team. They made the adjustment to use their outside game a little bit more. It opened a lot more shots for them.”
Izzo was asked if this is the type of leadership he expects Lucas to display the rest of the season. The coach said the type of leadership didn’t matter, as long as it was there.
“Are we looking for him to be a rah-rah guy? No,” Izzo said. “We’re looking for him to demand stuff on the court. You can lead in different ways.”
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