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On a Mission: #6 Michigan State Spartans Squeak by Minnesota 66-61


The Michigan State Spartans showed tonight, why they are the, “Elite Program” that Tom Izzo has chiseled out of granite, and why the Minnesota Golden Gophers aren’t. Michigan State was trailing late in the game at the Barn in Minnesota, but then it got down to nuts and bolts and Draymond Green led his Spartans to another W.

Izzo said it best after the game, “In a championship run, you've got to steal a game,” and tonight they did. Green only scored once in the second half, but true to his dynamic flair it was a big one. With under just over a minute to go in regulation and his trailing the Gophers he hit a shot that tied the game.

Green didn’t hesitate to confess, “We needed this win,” and they got it. He added, “Anytime you get a road win, no matter how ugly it is, it means a lot”

The Spartans shot only 41% compared to Minnesota’s 45%, but where Michigan State lost on the stat sheet that is usually a sign of a loss for them was on the boards. Not characteristic of MSU the Gophers beat them up 33-27. This 2011-2012 team is Izzo’s third best ever with a +10 ratio on the boards this year, and coming in were third in the nation in rebounding margin.

Izzo confessed, “We sure did play undisciplined and sloppy," and he was right.

Tubby Smith continues his futility against his friend Tom Izzo why wearing the burgundy and gold. He is now 1-11 while at the helm of the Gophers against Izzo’s Spartans. He said of the Michigan State team, “They play with a lot of toughness. They play with a lot of confidence," a true compliment and fact at the same time.

Izzo has said many times that, “Championship teams find ways to win on their off nights,” and that is exactly what this team looks like and accomplished this evening.

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The normally steady Keith Appling was the best example of that tonight. He made two critical mistakes that could have cost the Spartans against a better team tonight, then ended up sealing the game at the line. Fitting.

The first critical error by Appling was on a momentum building breakaway dunk he hung on the rim. It was an obvious mistake that turned into a momentum killing technical foul. His second big mistake was with the shot clock winding down and his man (Andre Hollins) desperate to beat the shot clock he fouled him on a terrible defensive play to give him three free throws. Hollins obliged the mistake and sank them all to put the Gophers up seven.

It was fitting for a team on an unlikely run for a title, with a coach that has nothing left to prove looking for his 7th Big Ten championship in 17 years, that it was the struggling Appling who sank the winning free throws. He finished with 13 points and five assists.

Izzo even said, “"I feel very fortunate to win it, and I'm proud that we found a way to win a game that we didn't deserve to."

Draymond Green led the team in nearly every statistical category even while struggling most of the second half. He had 17 points, five rebounds and five assists, all of that to go along with four steals and one block.

The bigs for MSU played a combination of all 40 minutes. Sophomore Adreian Payne dropped in six points and five rebounds in 25 minutes. Derrick Nix who shot only three of seven from the field still scored eight points in 15 minutes of action.

Brandon Wood came off the bench to play 27 minutes and pick up 13 much needed points. Branden Dawson scored seven points in 19 minutes of play.

The Gophers have lost 20 of their last 26 Big Ten games. With Tubby Smith having been rumored to be looking at jobs nearly every season you can’t imagine those two ingredients are going over well in the Twin Cities. The Gopher record fell to 17-11 and just 5-10 in Big Ten play.

The Spartans record improves to 23-5 and 12-3 in the countries best conference, the Big Ten. The Spartans maintain a one game lead in the conference with three remaining include their next game on Saturday night against Nebraska. They then finish the regular season at Indiana and home against Ohio State for a 4 PM nationally televised game.