GAME NOTES: Big Ten Conference rivals mix it up on Saturday afternoon, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers come calling on the fifth-ranked Michigan State Spartans.
Minnesota has had an impressive first couple of months under new head coach Richard Pitino, logging a 13-3 overall mark, which includes a 2-1 league ledger. The Golden Gophers fell in their conference opener to Michigan (63-60), but have responded by taking down Purdue (82-79) and Penn State (68-65). UM is 2-0 in true road games this season.
Michigan State has gotten off to another highly successful start, having suffered just a single blemish in 15 total outings. The Spartans are coming off one of their biggest wins of the season, as they handed conference foe Ohio State its first loss in a 72-68 overtime affair at the Breslin Center on Tuesday night. The victory improved the Spartans to 7-1 at home, as they continue to display the kind of dominance the best teams do when serving as the host.
With its 61-50 win in the most recent meeting with Minnesota last season, Michigan State took a 56-55 lead in the all-time series. The Spartans have really taken control of the relationship in recent years, winning five of the last six, 13 of the last 15 matchups overall.
Minnesota has been rock-solid is just about every phase of the game to this point in the campaign, netting an average of 76 ppg while permitting 65.8 ppg. The team boasts three double-digit scorers in Andre Hollins (15.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.1 apg), Austin Hollins (12.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.6 apg) and DeAndre Mathieu (11.6 ppg, 4.4 apg), while a guy like Elliott Eliason makes his presence felt in other ways as he has blocked 42 shots while pulling down a team-high 8.5 rpg.
Mathieu scored 16 points and Andre Hollins had 14 as Minnesota overcame a six- point deficit late in the contest to narrowly win at Penn State earlier this week. Eliason finished with a line of 11 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, and the Gophers played well defensively, limiting the Nittany Lions to 37.9 percent field goal accuracy, which included misses on 16 of their 19 3-point tries.
Michigan State continues to excel at both ends of the court, averaging a robust 81.9 ppg thanks 48.4 percent field goal efficiency, which includes a 40.5 percent showing from 3-point land. The team features four double-digit scorers, led by Gary Harris with 17.8 ppg. Adreian Payne (16.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Keith Appling (15.9 ppg, 4.7 apg, 3.5 rpg) and Branden Dawson (10.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg) round out the top performers for the Spartans, who allow just 64.7 on typical shooting efforts of .380 overall and .311 from beyond the arc. MSU also owns favorable margins in both rebounding (+5.5) and turnovers (+2.5).
Appling was high man for MSU in its big win over Ohio State, netting 20 points while also handing out seven assists and grabbing six boards. He did have five of the team's 17 turnovers, but the Spartans shot 45.6 percent from the field, while making good on 11-of-19 3-point attempts (.579). Payne tallied 18 points and six rebounds, while Harris pitched in with 13 points, five caroms and three helpers. The Buckeyes were held to shooting efforts of only .414 overall and .222 from beyond the arc, while also committing 21 turnovers off which Michigan State scored 26 points.
The Spartans will need to guard against a letdown following their recent win over OSU, something the Gophers certainly hope happens. MSU head coach Tom Izzo is a master at motivating his club, and he should be able to do so once more.
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