MINNEAPOLIS -- Some quick thoughts on Minnesota's 76-63 victory over Michigan State on Monday.
Overview: This game represented everything college basketball fans love about the Big Ten. It was a gritty, physical, no-easy-buckets matchup that featured a pair of nationally-ranked foes in the Big Ten’s first matchup. Minnesota thrived early off the energy in Williams Arena. The Gophers, who’ve cracked the Associated Press’ top 10 for the first time since 1982 (the 1996-97 Final Four team was also ranked in the top 10 but its results were vacated due to an academic scandal), held a 17-16 lead with 11:54 remaining in the first half. The Gophers then launched a 20-9 run to take a 37-25 lead with 4:53 to go before halftime. Michigan State answered and closed the gap to 39-38 by halftime, a comeback anchored by a 10-0 run.
The back-and-forth action continued into the second half. The game wasn’t decided until the final minutes. With 3:50 to play, Minnesota held a 64-63 edge. Andre Hollins hit a running jumper, however, to give Minnesota a 3-point lead. An Adreian Payne foul put Rodney Williams on the free throw line, where he hit two to extend Minnesota’s lead. Hollins’ dunk on a fast break sealed the game, a huge win for a Gophers team that justified its No. 9 ranking.
Turning Point: Minnesota nearly pulled away twice. But Michigan State's 10-0 rally to close the gap in the first half kept it close. And the Spartans responded to Minnesota’s early run in the second half with another 11-0 stretch that gave the Spartans a lead. Both were vital. But Minnesota’s 13-6 rally, which helped the Gophers regain the momentum on their home floor, was evidence of its maturity.
Key Player: Hollins, who scored a game-high 22 points, was a star. The sophomore, who has displayed new confidence since a 41-point explosion against Memphis on Nov. 23 in the Battle 4 Atlantic tournament, was crucial for the Gophers down the stretch. He hit an important jumper in the final minutes to give the Gophers some breathing room.
Key Stat: The Spartans were 2-for-10 from the free throw line.
Miscellaneous: This is the best Minnesota team I’ve seen in six years. The Gophers are athletic, versatile and have multiple scoring options. They’re going to be a challenge for every team in this league. ... Derrick Nix had a rough day (5-for-15 shooting), but he’s clearly enhanced his footwork and post attack. Most of his shots didn’t fall, but he’s a much better interior player than he was a year ago.