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The Sports Xchange, Published January 11 2014

Michigan State beats Gophers in overtime

EAST LANSING, Mich. – It wasn’t a case of being intimidated. Far from it. So it was hard for Minnesota players to explain blowing a 10-point second-half lead in an 87-75 overtime loss Saturday at No. 5 Michigan State.

Could it be the Gophers ultimately couldn’t handle the enormity of the opportunity they had staring them in face – a chance to pull off the program’s first-ever road upset of a top-five team?

First-year coach Richard Pitino didn’t know such a victory had never occurred at Minnesota. Players had no idea, either.

That might explain why Pitino’s squad played loose and pressure-free for almost the entire game, even after losing control before forcing overtime on DeAndre Mathieu’s layup with 1.7 seconds left.

A historic victory was within their grasp, but the Gophers had nothing left, as the Spartans outscored them 9-0 in the extra period to avoid an embarrassing loss in front of 14,797 fans at the Breslin Center.

“We have a lot of respect for Michigan State, unbelievable amount of respect for coach (Tom) Izzo,” Pitino said. “So any time you go on the road, great environment and you step up for 40 minutes and you don’t win the game – it’s a bit of a missed opportunity. But there will be plenty more, unfortunately. If you haven’t looked at our schedule, we play top-five teams every game.”

The Gophers (13-4, 2-2 Big Ten) have home dates Thursday against No. 3 Ohio State and Jan. 22 against No. 4 Wisconsin sandwiched around next Sunday’s game at Iowa.

But they came so close to ending a 14-game losing streak at Michigan State that dates to Feb. 14, 1998.

Pitino admitted he thought it was a “pleasant surprise” when the Spartans (15-1, 4-0) ruled out All-Big Ten center Adreian Payne for the game because of a foot injury.

That made the loss even harder to take.

Still, Pitino said he’ll probably look back on the game as a step forward for his program. Minnesota was a preseason pick to be one of the Big Ten’s worst teams. So far, it has not been.

The Gophers showed their potential when they trailed by just two points against Syracuse with less than two minutes left in the Maui Invitational in November. The Orange are now ranked No. 2.

But after Saturday’s tough loss, junior guard Andre Hollins talked about how emotionally drained and tired he was.

Hollins, who scored a team-high 24 points, was proud of the way his team proved it could compete with one of the Big Ten favorites.

“It’s not a moral victory for us, though,” he said. “We came in expecting to win. We take some positives from this, but we got to look at what we did wrong. The biggest thing that will come off looking at film is execution in overtime.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.