I can't believe Jose Valverde still has a job with the MSU basketball team.
On Wednesday, MSU blew a 17-point lead with eight minutes left before pulling out an overtime win against Ohio State. On Saturday, MSU blew a five-point lead with less than 15 seconds left before pulling out an 87-75 overtime win against Minnesota.
It was a game that saw MSU trailing for much of the day after a hot shooting start for the Gophers. Malik Smith averages 9.7 points for Minnesota, and he scored 17, going 5-for-10 from deep. But MSU came back in the second half thanks to the defense. Minnesota made just three field goals in the final 15 minutes of the second half. MSU took the lead midway through the second and pushed it to 67-61 with 2:41 to go.
But the Gophers stayed in the game as MSU's offense went dry and Minnesota went 10-for-10 from the free-throw line during this stretch, including 6-for-6 from Andre Hollins being fouled on three-point attempts. A Minnesota three-pointer with 13 seconds left was followed by two missed free throws from Gary Harris and a Minnesota layup with a second left to got it to overtime. Minnesota made just one field goal in overtime, and MSU actually ended up covering the 11-point spread and surpassing the 10-point win predicted by KenPom.
Adriean Payne didn't play while dealing with his foot issue, while Travis Trice put in 19 needed minutes against Minnesota's press while still recovering from an illness.
It was another one that didn't need to be as close as it was, but a win's a win, and MSU moves to 4-0 in the Big Ten and 15-1 overall. It's another win where we see that MSU can overcome some adversity and get through.
We also get back the Honeycrisp Trophy.
The Gophers were lights out for the first 25 minutes, especially from behind the arc. Part of it was luck, as three-point shooting defense tends to be, but part of it was Minnesota getting good look after good look. MSU was just not closing out well. The defender would be there, but he couldn't even get a hand in the face because he was too far back. Minnesota went 10-for-26 from three, missing its last three attempts. They shot 43 percent on 2s.
After the turnover bug led to the collapse against Ohio State, MSU took much better care of the ball this time. Minnesota doesn't force a high amount of turnovers, but they do press a lot, and MSU handled it well.
MSU wasn't great on the offensive glass, but they did have nine offensive rebounds in the final 25 minutes after recording just four in the first half. And this was without Payne and a sometimes-disengaged Branden Dawson (more on that below). MSU was very good on the defensive glass. Denzel Valentine had eight defensive rebounds, while Dawson had seven.
MSU got to the free-throw line a whole, lot, going 32-for-40 at the line. MSU took just three shot attempts in the 16-point overtime, but went 12-for-14 at the line in the extra period.
Keith Appling - Needed to be the focal point and was, scoring 24 points on 4-for-10 shooting and 15-for-16 at the free-throw line. He had some early foul trouble, but did a great job of driving and getting to the line.
Gary Harris - Continues to put up a lot of points on a lot of shots: 19 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 1-for-8 from three-point range. He went 8-for-11 at the line, but his two misses at the end of regulation were huge. I mentioned MSU's poor closing out on defense, and Harris especially looked slow coming around screens. I wonder how that ankle is doing.
Kenny Kaminski - Early on, it was Kaminski who was keeping MSU within striking distance. Kaminski scored 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting, all 3s. His defense isn't great, but MSU couldn't afford to keep his shooting on the bench. His star has risen quickly. It will be up to Izzo to keep him grounded, but he's looking like a huge weapon moving forward.
Branden Dawson - Had three rebounds and zero points in nine first-half minutes, lacking the energy he needs. It showed up in the second half, as he finished with six points and 10 rebounds (three offensive), along with a block and a steal. Both Dawson and Izzo seem a little mystified by how Dawson's been acting recently. There may be another sick Spartan.
Izzo on Dawson: "There's something wrong with Branden, there's no question about it. There's something bothering him."— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) January 11, 2014
Branden Dawson agrees with Tom Izzo that something's bothering him. He's feeling sick and dizzy lately. Tests to come Monday.— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) January 11, 2014
Denzel Valentine - Was close to a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds (two offensive). Had four assists to three turnnovers.
Matt Costello - Was solid in a game MSU needed him to be: seven points (5-for-6 at the line), eight rebounds (four offensive) and three blocks in 26 minutes.
Next up: At Northwestern on Wednesday.