Tom Izzo stressed to his players all week how different conference play would be from the non-conference schedule.
It turned out to be just that, as Michigan State's Big Ten opener against Minnesota turned into a dogfight.
But the Spartans' most consistent player and third leading scorer in the Big Ten, Raymar Morgan, was unstoppable all night, scoring 31 points.
"I thought our guys gave a really good effort, but we had no answer for Raymar (Morgan)," first-year Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "He runs the floor extremely well."
After exchanging leads throughout the first half, Kalin Lucas, playing in his first Big Ten conference game, stepped up late in the half.
After the Golden Gophers tied the game at 26 with two minutes left, Lucas drained a three-pointer and followed that with a jumper, quickly putting the No.6 Spartans up by five. Raymar Morgan made a layup for two of his 15 first-half points and MSU went into halftime with slight breathing room, leading 33-26.
Lucas scored 12 of his 17 points in the first half, shooting 50 percent from the field including 3-of-6 from three-point. But Lucas wasn't done making big plays.
After the Spartans increased their lead to 13 points to open the second half, Minnesota (10-3, 0-1 Big Ten) came back with defense to climb within 58-57 with just under four minutes left, forcing Izzo to call a timeout.
As the momentum swung to the Gophers, Izzo told his players to stay calm and make a big play.
Lucas did just that, stealing the ball from Lawrence McKenzie on the next Minnesota possession and driving to the basket, getting McKenzie to foul him.
"Coach told us in that timeout that we needed a defensive play and I just read it and got the steal," said Lucas. "We were up one and we just needed a defensive stop and we just all dug down and I got the steal, we just tried to stick together and knew we needed to get a stop."
Lucas made both free throws and put the Spartan lead to 60-57.
"It was huge, Kalin's steal got us going a little bit, got the crowd going and that was the play that got us up," said Morgan.
But Damian Johnson's jumper with 4:16 to play to bring Minnesota within 58-57 was the last basket the Gophers would score until the game had been decided.
Morgan capped a three-point play to put MSU up 63-57 and the Spartans would hold on for a 65-59 victory to improve to 13-1 on the season and 1-0 in the Big Ten.
"Raymer is a big part of the team, he just played great," said Lucas.
Lucas' big-time plays and Morgan unstoppable performance created a mix that Minnesota could not counter.
Michigan State now moves on to host Purdue on Tuesday night.
MSU Grinds Out Big Ten Opener
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