Gophers fall to Michigan State NCAA tournaments second ro… – Duluth News Tribune

Gophers fall to Michigan State NCAA tournament\s second ro... - Duluth News Tribune
Michigan State basketball pounds Minnesota, 70-50: Observations
Share Share Busting Through: Spartans dominate Minnesota, advance to Sweet Sixteen tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports Saturday night, the Michigan State Spartans exercised more than a few demons.

With the weight of not reaching the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2015, first-round struggles and criticism of the program all weighing on the Spartans, they wasted no time getting to work. Unfortunately for the Big Ten, it was the Minnesota Golden Gophers on the receiving end. The Spartans domination would end in a 70-50 final score.

Murphy wraps his career with a program-best 1,307 rebounds, No. 2 in Big Ten history, and 1,766 points, fourth-best in Gophers history. He is the most-accomplished player in the programs recent history and might be one of its best ever. He was Mr. Reliable, never missing a contest in his four years. Saturday marked his 133rd straight appearance. The five minutes played marked a career low. Murphy is just 6 feet 6 and has a vintage game predicated on defense, rebounding and hustle.

Cassius Winston was relatively quiet through the first half. Despite scoring only four points in the first half, Winston went to the break with seven assists, helping the Spartans to a 33-19 lead. But it was clear to his head coach that Winston was not playing his best game.

Hes done so much, and never once has he ever embarrassed the program, never once has he ever not been about the team, Pitino said. Hes been a great representative for himself, his family and obviously for our basketball program. Hes a special kid. Im going to miss him. Hes somebody that I consider family, and I appreciate everything that hes given me, because hes laid it all out there. Every ounce of sweat, hes put on the line for this program.

In the second half, when the Spartans were pressed for the first time all game that Winston showed how much hes really worth to MSU.

Michigan State watched its halftime lead shrink to just nine with 14 minutes to play. Thats when Tom Izzo challenged his All-American.

The back injury rendered Murphy physically unable to even sit on the bench. He stood behind the Gophers reserve players for the games duration, leaning forward against a chair. But he stayed emotionally engaged throughout. He was in a players only huddle with the other starters in the moments prior to the start of the second half and was active in every timeout.

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I always tell him, when the head goes, the body follows. Hes our head, Izzo said. When he got back on the horse, the rest of the guys did. Its pretty cool that hes got that much impact on our team.

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Winston then went on a one-man tear, scoring seven straight points. The game would never feel close again.

Murphy started, but he played just five minutes Saturday. It was obvious during pregame warmups that Murphy was laboring and unable to do much in the way of moving. Murphy could barely put his socks on Saturday morning and was struggling to get up and down the court as the Spartans raced past Minnesota.

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Its more about showing your energy level, youre approach, Winston said. You know, just focusing in on the task at hand. You got to make some big plays. I have to be who I am for this team.

I dont think its what I expected, Murphy said of his career. But life is what you make it. Thats my biggest thing. … I think Im leaving (the program) in a good place. I think Im leaving it better than when I found it, and thats the ultimate goal for every player.

Winstons steady play paid off in a big way for his teammates stat sheets. Xavier Tillman had a team-high 14 points. Kenny Goins, Aaron Henry, Matt McQuaid and Nick Ward scored nine points each. Henry recovered nicely from his issues in the first-round, leading the team in rebounds with eight.

I at least had to try for my guys and show them I could at least try for them and give them everything I had today, Murphy said. I tried to play through it. Really couldnt move. I was struggling out there. I just told coach Id rather not be a hindrance to the team out there.

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Thats just typical Cassius, thats just what he does, Tillman said after the game. Whenever we need him to score, whenever we need him to distribute whenever we need him to just lead vocally, he does whatever we need him to do. That was just another day in the park.

So, with less than two minutes left in the game and the contest in-hand for Michigan State, Pitino subbed Murphy back into the game, only to pull him out just moments later, giving the Gophers faithful an opportunity to send Murphy off in the proper fashion.

Izzo repeatedly mentioned the heavy load placed on Winston and how crucial he is to the team. And now, how important it is to get Winston some time off.

His exact basketball future is a bit of an unknown, with this exception: Hell be remembered as one of the Gophers greats. Thats a direct product of the heart and hustle with which Murphy played — qualities craved by Minnesota sports fans.

Im a little concerned because, hes struggling. If I was going to be honest with you, that wasnt the best Ive seen Cassius play, Izzo said. And if he can do that not playing his best, that bodes well. But were going to have to get him some rest the next couple of days.

The Gophers players on the floor ran toward their coach in search of answers. The problem was, the one man who might have been able to resuscitate Minnesotas Sweet 16 hopes wasnt among them.

Michigan State dominates Minnesota, 70-50, advances to Sweet 16 for first time in four years

While it was the MSU offense that closed the door, it was Minnesotas offense that may have made the biggest difference. The Spartans defense held the Gophers to only 30 percent from the field and an outrageous nine percent (2-22) from three. Only three Minnesota players scored more than two points and only Amir Coffey – who had 27 – scored more than eight points.

Slowly, Jordan Murphy made his way from behind the bench toward the Gophers huddle, grimacing with every labored step, using the Gophers bench seats to aid his efforts.

The win was the 50th career NCAA Tournament win for Izzo. The Spartans move on to the Sweet Sixteen for the 20th time in program history. They will meet the LSU Tigers in Washington D.C. Three-seed LSU beat Maryland earlier in the day to secure their spot.

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