MINNEAPOLIS - Michigan State took a big step toward achieving the first portion of its adjusted goals for the 2011 season when the Spartans recorded a notable road victory over Minnesota, 53-48, Tuesday night.
The Spartans - a preseason Top 5 team with dashed hopes of a third straight Big Ten title - improved to 16-11 overall and perhaps more importantly 8-7 in the Big Ten. One more victory and Michigan State will be in solid shape for its 14th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, which became the new goal late last month. Two more regular season wins and the Spartans will be seen as a lock for the NCAA Tournament, something that seemed unlikely on Feb. 6 when Michigan State fell to 5-6 in conference play after two straight 20-plus point losses to Iowa and Wisconsin.
But the Spartans have won three of four since then, as senior Kalin Lucas has continued a late-season hot surge. For the second straight game, Lucas was the only Spartan in double figures, carrying Michigan State with 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting (including 3-of-8 from 3-point range).
"It was Kalin and Draymond Green," said Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. "They did the things they had to do. Kalin, I played him just about every minute and I thought he did a hell of a job. He was very good defensively and so was Mike Kebler and so was Keith Appling. We just had a lot of guys that did something. Almost nobody did nothing, and almost nobody was great other than K and DayDay. Everybody did some good and some bad, but at the end we had the run."
Michigan State ended the game with a 14-1 run, screaming back from a 47-39 deficit with 4:11 to go.
Green ignited the run with a steal out of MSU's desperate, late-game full court press with less than four minutes to play. That steal quickly led to a 12-foot Lucas jumper, cutting the lead to 47-43 with 3:26 to play.
Then Delvon Roe, playing like an old pro, stood firm on defense in forcing a Trevor Mbakwe miss in the post, which Green rebounded on the run. Green pushed the break, leading a 4-on-2 transition opportunity, and found enigmatic Durrell Summers on the right wing for an open 3-pointer, which Summers drained, cutting the lead to 47-46 with 2:45 and sending a revitalized Spartan sideline into a fist-pumping frenzy.
Summers was 0-for-5 from 3-point range for the game prior to that one, as the Spartans had multiple good shots from the perimeter against Minnesota's big, slow, 2-3 zone. MSU muddled through the game while suffering from poor accuracy most of the night, finishing 6-of-24 from 3-point range and having mixed results in trying to penetrate the zone with entry passes.
"I thought we were very lethargic early," Izzo said. "I thought we had some good shots. Poor Durrell couldn't make one but boy he made a big one down the stretch. DayDay gave him that great pass on the break."
Appling struggled from the field for the second straight game but came up with two huge rebounds in the final 90 seconds. The first was a defensive rebound off a missed Gopher 3-pointer with 1:22 to go. He was fouled while securing a range rebound with the dribble. With Michigan State in the bonus, he nailed both foul shots, tying the game at 48-48.
Then Mbakwe missed a hook shot against Green. Green snared a tricky carom with forceful one-handed rebound.
Then Lucas's driving floater was an airball, but Roe tipped the offensive rebound out to Green in the backcourt with :31 remaining in the game. With the shot clock winding down, Green missed a 3-pointer, but Roe again tipped an offensive rebound to Appling. Appling was fouled with :27 remaining.
Appling again made both foul shots to put MSU up 50-48.
"Poor Keith Appling struggled and missed good shots, and then made all those big free throws, all one-and-ones, that was unbelievable," Izzo said. "We had a lot of guys who screwed up and then came back."
The Gophers missed a 3-pointer at the other end, Kebler grabbed the rebound, was fouled, and hit two free throws to put the game away.
"We got something out of Delvon, and Adreian Payne played very well," Izzo said. "And then Kebler at the end goes in there and hits the two free throws. Garrick Sherman hit two big free throws. He hadn't hit two free throws in a million years. We had a bunch of different guys that helped us. Our defense was pretty good, our offense wasn't very good, give Minnesota credit for that.
"We got some steals at the start of the second half and actually got some points off our defense. We're not pretty, but that sure was a big win for us on the road. We did some good things. I'm just happy we won."
Green, who didn't start the last game because of an illness, returned to the first group and had seven points with 10 rebounds and four steals for the Spartans. He was 2-of-7 from the field, and had a team-high 10 rebounds.
Summers had his sixth straight single-digit scoring game, shooting 3 for 11. He finished with 7 points and 1 rebound in 20 minutes.
Roe had only 1 point and 2 rebounds, but was a steadying influence in 22 minutes of play. He delivered three assists, including a pair of duck-ins down low to Payne for consecutive lay-ups to put MSU up 32-27 with 13:40 to go.
"We were up 37-31, I thought we were really doing some things and then we had some sloppy plays where turnovers hurt us," Izzo said. "We only had 12 turnovers but they scored on a lot of those turnovers."
Mbakwe had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Gophers (17-10, 6-9), who have lost six of their eight games without senior point guard Al Nolen, who is out for the year with an injury.