Without Murphy, Gophers lose to Michigan State 70-50

The Gophers found out the hard way it’s tough to beat Michigan State with only one healthy post player.

With Matz Stockman out due to concussion symptoms and Eric Curry out for the year, it was up to Daniel Oturu and Jordan Murphy to shoulder the load in the front-court. Murphy didn’t play the last five minutes in Minnesota’s 86-76 win over Louisville on Thursday due to low back spasms. He tried to play the first four minutes against the Spartans Saturday night, but  went to the bench during the first media timeout and didn’t return as the Gophers’ season ended in a 70-50 loss.

The Gophers shot just 7-of-32 from the field (21.9 percent), including just 2-of-16 from three-point range in the first half as they trailed 33-19 at the half. Michigan State could’ve had a bigger lead, but committed 14 turnovers.

Other than Coffey’s 12 first half points, the lone positive for the Gophers was five points from Isaiah Washington, who had seen his playing time cut severely in the Big Ten season. Washington finished with nine points in

Minnesota shot just 2-of-22 from three-point range for the game after going 11-of-27 from the perimeter in the win over Louisville. Gabe Kalscheur and Dupree McBrayer shot a combined 0-12 from the field, including 0-of-7 from three-point range.

Not having Murphy healthy was entire the difference for the Gophers, despite causing 22 Michigan State turnovers. Without the all-time leading rebounder in school history, the Spartans out-rebounded Minnesota 45-19 for the game. In a classy gesture, Gophers coach Richard Pitino put Murphy into the game in the final minute of regulation to get a send-off from a large contingent of Minnesota fans in attendance. He was quickly subbed out and was in tears as he embraced his coaches and teammates.

The Gophers cut Michigan State’s lead to 40-31 at one point in the second half as Wells Fargo Arena came to life, but Cassius Winston showed why he’s the Big Ten Player of the Year. He scored seven straight points to put the Spartans up 47-31. Winston finished with 13 points.

Pitino hasn’t had the greatest of luck when it comes to healthy players in key games. Curry missed all of last season with a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee. He played 13 games this year before battling a calf strain, and his season ended after hurting his right foot in practice, an injury that required season-ending surgery.

Dupree McBrayer had a stress reaction in his left leg last season and played the second half of the season essentially on one leg. Amir Coffey missed the back half of last season to have shoulder surgery.

The Gophers were without Akeem Springs during Pitino’s first NCAA Tournament run with Minnesota two seasons ago. He suffered a torn Achilles in the Big Ten Tournament. Nate Mason was also slowed by a hip injury during the Gophers NCAA Tournament loss to Middle Tennessee State.

With Murphy sidelined Saturday, Michigan State took full advantage. Kenny Goins led the Spartans with nine first-half points, including 2-of-3 from three-point range after shooting 0-of-7 from the perimeter in Thursday’s win over Bradley. Xavier Tillman led Michigan State with 14 points, and Winston added nine assists to his 13 points.

Coffey led all scorers with 27 points on 8-of-24 shooting. He was the lone starter in double figures. Daniel Oturu added eight points and four rebounds.

The Gophers season ends with a 22-13 record. It was a year that included three top-25 wins, an emotional Senior Night win over Purdue, their first trip to the NCAA second round under Pitino and their first win in Madison since 2009.