But sophomore forward Raymar Morgan had his way in the paint, as he scored a career-high 31 points. Minnesota has to make its presence known in the post on offense and defense when the Spartans come to Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Sunday.
Minnesota will have to neutralize Morgan if it is going to get the win. That means that seniors Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman have to put a body on him.
Sophomore forward Damian Johnson, the team's leader in blocks, will try to use his 7-foot-5 wingspan off the bench to help out on Morgan.
But the Gophers also lacked a post presence on the glass last time. Michigan State grabbed 45 rebounds compared to Minnesota's 25, a difficult deficit for any team to overcome.
If Minnesota (12-4, 2-1 Big Ten) loses the battle of the boards, it likely will lose. But, more important, the Gophers would adversely affect their chances of entering the NCAA tourney bubble.
INDIANA 65, MINNESOTA 60: With just under 30 seconds to go Thursday, Minnesota was down by three points, but freshman sharpshooter Blake Hoffarber, the Big Ten's best 3-point shooter, was sitting on the bench. Minnesota's Lawrence McKenzie missed a 3-pointer to tie the game, but it shouldn't have come down to that.
The Hoosiers turned the ball over 26 times, and their stud freshman, Eric Gordon, finished with 12 points, after entering with a 23-point average.
But Minnesota missed its best opportunity to beat an NCAA Tournament-worthy opponent because it couldn't hit its free throws. Going 11-for-21 against the No. 9 team in the country doesn't cut it.
IN FOCUS: Minnesota is playing well at a time when other Big Ten squads are clearly struggling. Michigan State, the No. 6 squad that lost to lowly Iowa on Jan. 12, proved that the league has plenty of parity. Minnesota nearly beat Michigan State at East Lansing Jan. 5 by playing aggressively against Drew Neitzel, who only scored four points. And they also introduced Breslin Arena's crowd to the art of the foul, drawing 18 infractions, including a couple of key charges, on the Spartans. And Raymar Morgan (31 points) and Kalin Lucas (17 points) were the only two double-digit scorers for Michigan State. If Minnesota can trap and double Morgan effectively, which is easier said than done, it has a good shot at walking away with a win. But the Gophers can't fall behind by 13 points the way they did Jan. 5 if they expect to leave Williams Arena with a victory.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Dan Coleman, F Damian Johnson, C Spencer Tollackson, G Lawrence McKenzie, G Lawrence Westbrook. Key Subs — G Al Nolen, G Blake Hoffarber.
Michigan State 65, Minnesota 59
Minnesota 82, Northwestern 63
Minnesota 76, Penn State 73
Indiana 65, Minnesota 60
vs. Michigan State, Sunday, Jan. 20
at Ohio State, Saturday, Jan. 26
at Michigan, Thursday, Jan. 31