Ailing Harris guides Spartans past Gophers

Keith Dunlap, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

EAST LANSING, MICH. -- For all the pain that Michigan State freshman Gary Harris seemed to be in throughout Wednesday's game, it had nothing on the anguish he inflicted on Minnesota.
Despite moving gingerly throughout the game, Harris gutted it out and scored a team-high 15 points to lead No. 12 Michigan State to a 61-50 win over No. 18 Minnesota in an another physical Big 10 contest.
Harris had to be removed from the Spartans' Jan. 31 win over Illinois due to back spasms, but he ended up starting against the Gophers. He battled through his discomfort while shooting 5-for-11 from the field, including 4-for-8 from behind the 3-point arc, and playing what Michigan State coach Tom Izzo called a "heroic" 36 minutes for the Spartans.
"I just kept asking him if he could go, and thank God he never told me no because I don't know what I would've done at that point," Izzo said. "That kid showed me some character and some heart."
Harris said his back ailment was aggravated at the start of the game, but he said playing more actually was therapeutic.
"I didn't want to come out because I knew if I came out, it was going to get worse," Harris said. "It was going to get locked up and it was going to get tight. I just wanted to stay on the court as much as possible and keep it as loose as possible."
Junior co-captain Keith Appling added 14 points, and junior center Adreian Payne had 11 points and seven rebounds for Michigan State, which won for the eighth time in its past nine games. The Spartans (19-4, 8-2) are now 13-2 since losing at Miami (Fla.) on Nov. 28.
Michigan State moved into a tie for second place in the Big 10 with rival Michigan ahead of a showdown between the two teams Tuesday in East Lansing.
Before that, Michigan State must go on the road to play Purdue on Saturday, the same day Michigan plays at Wisconsin.
In paying back Minnesota for a 76-63 Gophers win in Minneapolis on Dec. 31, Michigan State overcame a hideous first half that saw it shoot 24 percent from the field (6 of 25) and trail 20-18 at halftime.
Behind 25-20 with 17:53 remaining in the game, Michigan State responded by going on a 21-4 run to take a 41-29 lead with 9:52 left on a steal and dunk by sophomore Branden Dawson.
Minnesota (17-6, 5-5) stayed within striking distance from there, shaving its deficit to as little as 49-45 with 2:48 remaining.
From there, though, the Spartans did what they have done so well this season, which is finish strongly.
Michigan State held off the Minnesota charge by scoring the next seven points to take a 56-45 lead with 1:35 left.
The Gophers couldn't get closer than nine points the rest of the way as their brief two-game winning streak ended.
Turnovers have plagued the Gophers throughout the season, and especially during a recent stretch that's seen them lose five of seven games. Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said that was the problem again Wednesday.
The Gophers finished with only 12 turnovers for the game, but it was the type and timing of the turnovers that irritated Smith.
"When you give up easy baskets and just throw the ball to the guy, those are just backbreakers," Smith said. "It's like getting punched in the gut."
Minnesota ended up outrebounding the Spartans 38-28, but Michigan State made up for that by shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range and committing only five turnovers, including none in the first half.
"It's very difficult to find a silver lining in a cloud, and that is a silver lining," Izzo said of how well his team took care of the ball. "That's probably why we won the game. Zero turnovers in the first half, I think that's the first time that's happened to us in the 30 years I've been here, honestly. To only have five for the game, I think that's the lowest in my career."
Following a terrible shooting performance in the first half, Michigan State turned it around completely in the second half, going 14 of 21 from the field and finishing at 43.5 percent (20 of 46) for the game.
Sophomore Andre Hollins scored 11 points and senior Trevor Mbakwe had nine points and 14 rebounds in defeat for Minnesota, which will look to rebound Sunday at home against Illinois.
NOTES: With 1:17 remaining in the game, Appling walked off of the court with the team trainer and doctor after suffering a right shoulder injury. At the time he was in tremendous pain, but he returned to the bench with 40 seconds remaining. Appling said after the game the shoulder popped out of place but that it gradually returned to normal and the pain lessened. He said he's not expected to undergo any further tests. ... Michigan State sophomore guard Travis Trice didn't dress because of a concussion he suffered in the Illinois game. ... Minnesota has not won at Michigan State since 1997, the year the Golden Gophers went to the Final Four.

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