MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Kalin Lucas scored 22 points, Raymar Morgan added 17 and Michigan State (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 6 AP) rallied to beat shorthanded Minnesota 65-64 on Saturday in a game the Spartans never led until the final minutes.
"I think the character of this team really showed," said Izzo, who felt that Michigan State's narrow was one of the better wins in his program's history. "Kalin, I told him that great players make great when it matters and he made a couple of plays when it mattered. Raymar went 12 minutes without a foul, we didn't turn the ball over, we started getting it inside and outside. We didn't play great for a lot of that game but it says something about the character to bounce back."
The Spartans (17-3) have won eight straight and matched their best start in the Big Ten since also starting 7-0 during the 1977-78 season.
Lucas hit a 3-pointer with 1:27 left to break a 62-all tie, and Minnesota answered with a basket by Damien Johnson to trim the lead to one. The Gophers denied Chris Allen a runner on defense, grabbed possession and called timeout with 14.7 seconds left.
After setting up the play Lawrence Westbrook unloaded in the lane with 3 seconds left. His contested shot came up short. Blake Hoffarber's tip at the buzzer bounced off the backboard as the Spartans streamed off their bench and onto the court.
Morgan picked up his fourth foul early in the second half. He returned to the floor with 12 minutes remaining in the second half and went the distance without picking up his fifth foul. Down the stretch Morgan contributed a 3-pointer and two clutch put backs.
"He was getting frustrated with the fouls, we were all getting frustrated with the fouls," said Izzo. "But we hung in there and I thought all along that the two guys still that are going to have to come through for us are Lucas and Morgan. Sure enough in this game, Lucas and Morgan. But as our team told us, the MVP of the game really was the big fella, Nixer, because he made that one free throw and that was the margin of victory."
Izzo decided to put Morgan back in the game earlier than he would have liked because he felt things slipping away. With Morgan in the basketball game, the Spartans had a presence on the interior that had been absent when the 6-foot-8 senior was on the bench.