Takeaways: Gophers fall to Michigan State, 70-52

Head coach Richard Pitino of the Minnesota Golden Gophers reacts in the first half against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Value City Arena on January 23, 2020 in Columbus, Ohio. Minnesota defeated Ohio State 62-59 ((Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images))

In front of a nearly packed house on a January Sunday afternoon at Williams Arena, with Willie Burton getting his jersey put in the rafters, the Gopher men’s basketball team had a rough shooting day in a 70-52 loss to Michigan State.

It was a rough afternoon following a thrilling 62-59 win at Ohio State earlier in the week. The Gophers entered the game having won six of their last eight, but couldn’t make shots at key times and were out-rebounded by a more physical Spartans squad.

But all is not lost. The Gophers have 11 regular season games left, and five at home to establish an NCAA Tournament resume before heading to the Big Ten Tournament. It doesn’t get any easier, with nine of their final 11 games coming against teams legitimately in the conversation for Selection Sunday.

Here are takeaways from Sunday’s loss.

Gophers ice cold shooting night

Simply put, the numbers don’t lie. The Gophers started ice cold against one of the better defensive teams in the country, making just nine shots from the field in the first half. They missed 10 straight 3-pointers at one point, and finished 3-of-18 (16.67 percent) from the perimeter in the first half. Despite shooting just 28 percent in the first half, the Gophers only trailed 30-22 and were within striking distance until the last four minutes.

Minnesota finished 5-of-28 (17.9 percent) from the perimeter for the game. They made only 16 shots from the field for the whole game and lost the battle on the boards, 39-35, while giving up nine offensive rebounds. It’s almost impossible to beat a team like Michigan State making only 28 percent of your shots. The good news is in theory, it can only get better and the shots have to fall at some point.

Who is the third scorer?

Daniel Oturu (19.7) and Marcus Carr (16.1) have largely carried the scoring load for the Gophers this season. They’ve averaging a combined 35.8 of Minnesota’s 71.1 points per game. But Minnesota has yet to establish a third consistent scoring threat this season.

At some point, it’s got to be one of Gabe Kalscheur, Alihan Demir or Payton Willis. The three shot a combined 5-of-23 on Sunday, including just 3-of-17 from the perimeter. Most of it was Kalscheur, with Willis and Demir going a combined 1-of-11 from the field and 0-of-8 from the perimeter. Carr also had a rough shooting night, going just 3-of-14 from the field after scoring 21 points and making the game-winning 3-pointer at Ohio State.

Kalscheur shooting improves

Slowly but surely, Gabe Kalscheur appears to be getting out of a shooting slump in his second season with the Gophers. He finished with 15 points Sunday on 4-of-12 shooting from the field, including 3-of-9 from three-point range. Kalscheur is 7-of-20 from the perimeter in Minnesota’s last three games after going a combined 4-of-25 against Northwestern, at Michigan State and against Michigan and Penn State.

Richard Pitino says he’s not worried about his top perimeter threat. Kalscheur is a shooter, so he’s going to keep getting shots up. The important thing is taking good shots. He got mostly good looks against the Spartans. At some point, they will fall more consistently.

First Big Ten home loss after first road win

Richard Pitino will say it until he’s blue in the face: It’s extremely difficult to win on the road in the Big Ten. The Gophers did so at Ohio State last week after a late dagger from Marcus Carr. It was their first road win over the Buckeyes since 2005.

It’s why Pitino says you’ve got to defend your home court. For the most part, the Gophers have done that this season. Minnesota is 9-2 at Williams Arena, and Sunday’s game against Michigan State was the team’s first home Big Ten loss this season. The other came to DePaul early in the non-conference season. The remaining home games are Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Maryland and Nebraska. Winning those five gets the Gophers at least 10 wins in the Big Ten. Lose any more and you’ve got to make up some ground on the road.

Gophers, Spartans react to Kobe Bryant’s death

The shocking and stunning news of Kobe Bryant’s death broke just before tipoff at Williams Arena. Richard Pitino and Tom Izzo both waited until the game was over to inform their players, not knowing how they would react emotionally if they were told before the game.

After, Pitino said, “That’s a hard one there. I don’t normally get affected by people I don’t know, but that one, I found out right before the game. We didn’t tell the team. Daniel Oturu is a humungous Kobe Bryant fan and he was devastated after the game. Unfortunately it keeps it in perspective for us all. That’s an unfortunate reminder, but I’m going to hug my kids, my wife. It’s just devastating.”

Izzo said, “My players are devastated. He kind of stood for everything I believe in. He was the hardest-working guy in America, he had all the talent. Makes you appreciate and understand that life is sometimes too short.”

The Gophers schedule doesn’t let up. They travel to Illinois on Thursday.