by: Daniel House
Photo: University of Minnesota
All year, the Gophers have been tested by a quality schedule. On Thursday night, the trend continued as Minnesota traveled to Breslin Center for a matchup against No. 8 Michigan State. Center Daniel Oturu scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but guard Cassius Winston powered the Spartans to their sixth consecutive victory. Winston, a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, had 27 points and six assists in Michigan State's 74-58 win.
From the opening tip, Spartans big man Xavier Tillman asserted himself in the post. He quickly completed three strong post moves and snatched a physical rebound. The Michigan State forward finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds.
In the opening minutes, Tillman scored six consecutive points as the Spartans grabbed an early 8-2 lead. Minnesota started the game shooting 1-for-7, including a trio of missed three-pointers. The Gophers dug out of a five-point deficit by playing active defense. Minnesota forced eight first half turnovers and converted those extra opportunties into 12 points.
Alihan Demir was disruptive on both ends of the court and grabbed a steal to get Minnesota’s offense going. Demir cut down the lane and Marcus Carr’s slick bounce pass set up an easy layup. The Drexel transfer is playing efficient and had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Carr was smoothly distributing the ball and improved the Gophers’ ball movement. He notably reversed to the corner and set up a three-pointer for guard Payton Willis. Later in the first half, Oturu also started to get post touches and knocked down a smooth hook shot in the paint. He also finished two difficult put-backs as the Gophers grabbed a four-point advantage with six minutes remaining in the first half. Oturu was crashing the glass and even ran the floor for an effortless transition slam. As he continues to put together dominant performances, the sophomore big man is solidifying himself as a premier post player.
The Gophers trailed 36-32 at the break, but Carr committed his fourth foul and went to the bench with 18:11 left. When Minnesota’s top guard left the floor, this game changed. The Gophers didn’t have enough backcourt depth to keep up.
In the second half, Michigan State grabbed an eight-point lead, but a three-pointer from Oturu ended the run. On the next possession, Minnesota allowed two offensive rebounds and Gabe Brown drilled a deep jumper from downtown. The Spartans' extra opportunties were the result of poor rebounding position. A few possessions later, Winston dished to the corner and Aaron Henry hit a three-pointer. Michigan State quickly extended its lead to 11 points with 12:47 remaining.
Gabe Kalscheur didn’t find his shot until the 12-minute mark of the second half. During one sequence, Kalscheur hit a deep three-pointer and caused an ill-advised attempt on the other end. All night, Kalscheur limited the Spartans’ deep scoring output by playing strong perimeter defense. However, he struggled offensively and scored just five points on 2-for-8 shooting.
Carr returned to the game with just under 11 minutes remaining and the Gophers’ ball movement quickly improved. One reversal led to a made three-pointer by freshman Tre’ Williams. Minnesota simply didn't hit enough shots and finished 5-for-20 from behind the arc. With a few minutes remaining, the Gophers also looked fatigued as the Spartans won several loose ball battles.
Overall, Minnesota had no answer for dynamic performances from Tillman and Winston. Michigan State’s premier talent and depth were clear x-factors during Thursday’s game.
The Gophers will host Michigan at Williams Arena on Sunday. (Noon - BTN).
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Tag(s): Gopher Basketball