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The Spartans earned a victory against the Gophers tonight -- but at what cost?
The Spartans had two main objectives tonight: get the win and stay healthy. Mission accomplished on the former, and not so much on the latter.
The first half began innocuously enough with Michigan State cruising to a 13-6 lead. A minute later, the lead was still 13-6. Two minutes later the lead was still 13-6. On it went for several interminable minutes, forcing Big Ten fans to grit their teeth and sane humans to change the channel.
Once the stalemate broke it broke towards the Golden Gophers, and it broke to the tune of an 8-0 run that put Minnesota ahead. If you're wondering why the MSU offense was stalled, it's because it looked like this:
RUN PROGRAM GETBASKET
IF NEED SCORE
GO TO RIM
Needless to say MSU was stymied several times inside the paint in the first half, and the half ended with a Golden Gopher 3-pointer. Minnesota 20, Michigan State 18, one angry me, even though MSU had zero turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
The second half had one significant adjustment for MSU to adjust to Minnesota's zone -- penetrate, then kick out to the open shooter. This worked swimmingly, as MSU once again took took the lead, and held on to win despite several setbacks in the form of injuries.
It might be easier for me to list the Spartans who didn't have an ailment tonight, but I'll go through the wounded in the player bullets.
- Gary Harris - 15 points, 8-11 shooting, 4-5 from three, 4 assists, 2 turnovers. In other words, he was the warrior. Harris was responsible for much of MSU's second half surge, and even when it looked like a recurrence of his back spasms would limit his effectiveness, he had a critical and-one that kept Minnesota at bay. Let's hope the back spasms don't make an appearance at Purdue on Saturday, because...
- Keith Appling - 14 points 5-10 shooting, 3-4 from three, three assists, three steals, one turnover. I don't remember Keith being that hot from three, but thank goodness he was, as he was steady at the point. One of the scariest MSU basketball moments in recent history occurred when Keith had to come off late with a shoulder injury; it was later revealed that his shoulder popped out. I don't think he'll be out a significant amount of time, but I sure hope he's back for Saturday. For the record:
- Adreian Payne - 11 points, 2-5 shooting, 7-8 free throws, seven rebounds, two blocks. Payne was invisible on offense until the last five minutes of the game. However, he came through late as he was the go-to option for free throws with Appling out.
- Branden Dawson - 7 points, 3-6 shooting, 1-5 free throws, 3 rebounds, 3 steals. I would've thought even with Minnesota's strong rebounding that Dawson would've obtained a few more rebounds. His steals were critical to the cause when MSU needed scoring. His free throw shooting was the opposite of critical.
- Derrick Nix - 6 points, 2-6 shooting, 3 assists, 3 rebounds. Nix looked troubled by Mbakwe and double-teams all game, limiting his effectiveness. On the bright side, he was aware of this and did look for the open shooter as he almost always does.
- Denzel Valentine - 8 points, 3-5 shooting, 2-4 from three, 1 turnover. Most of Trice's minutes fell to Valentine tonight, and he was up to the task. Earlier in the year Denzel looked to force many plays, and in today's game he let the action come to him, taking the open three when needed. He's growing before our eyes folks, and hopefully he won't have to be the primary ball handler against Purdue.
- Russell Byrd, Alex Gauna, Matt Costello - Not much to say about these three, all performed satisfactorily in limited minutes even if Byrd missed his two threes.
Keith Appling looked at @graham_couch like he was drunk when he asked if he could play in the next game. Appling says he's fine, will play.— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) February 7, 2013
The two big things to take away from this game -- the five turnovers committed by MSU is a low for the season and seems to be part of a positive trend, and that the Spartans made it to the finish line even with several injuries. At this point the plot seems to be less "Can the Spartans win the Big Ten?" and more "Can they make it to the finish line healthy enough to compete?" We'll know more in the coming days, but hopefully an incident-free performance Saturday can make the former loom larger than the latter.
Morning update: Here's your four factors chart. A solid all-around performance, really, as this was just a 55-possession game. 34.3% is actually the fourth lowest offensive rebounding percentage Minnesota has posted this year. And that's the lowest turnover percentage (9.0%) MSU has recorded since February 22 of last year (coincidentally, also against Minnesota). -KJ