No. 19 Michigan State outlasts Gophers in Big Ten opener

Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Tyson Walker scored 15 points apiece for 19th-ranked Michigan State in a 75-67 victory over Minnesota on Wednesday night in the first Big Ten opener for Gophers coach Ben Johnson and the 27th for Spartans coach Tom Izzo.

Brown had three 3-pointers as the Spartans went 10 for 21 from long range against a Gophers team that entered the game with the best 3-point defense in the nation at 23.1% allowed.

Hall (nine) and Brown (eight) fueled a 44-29 rebounding advantage by the Spartans (8-2, 1-0), who were humiliated here at Williams Arena a year ago in an 81-56 defeat that Izzo and his staff made sure to remind them of this week.

Sixth-year senior Eric Curry had a career-high 18 points and Jamison Battle scored 17 points for the Gophers (7-1, 0-1), whose feel-good start in Johnson’s debut was hit with a reality check from the stronger and deeper Spartans. Minnesota was one of only 12 remaining undefeated NCAA Division 1 teams when the day began.

Minnesota made a game of it by holding the Spartans to one basket over the final 4 1/2 minutes, a 3-pointer by Brown after the Gophers got within 64-55 at the last media timeout on a steal-dunk sequence by Sean Sutherlin.

Walker, the transfer from Northeastern who was the Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year last season, held Minnesota’s Payton Willis to nine points on 3-for-13 shooting.

The Gophers missed 13 of their first 16 shots, and not without hustle or creativity. The Spartans simply clamped down on the driving lanes and were there to grab the rebounds when the 3-pointers rimmed out. Eylijah Stephens found an open hoop off of a crisp pick-and-roll, only to have his finger roll swatted into the seats by Brown.

Hauser had 10 points, seven rebounds and tight defense on Battle — the sixth-leading scorer in the Big Ten entering the game. The sophomore’s first basket came with 8:59 left before halftime, a 3-pointer from the top of the key that cut Michigan State’s lead to 17-15. The Spartans snapped right back with a 25-9 spurt that stretched into the second half. Hauser hit a 3-pointer to give the Spartans their largest lead, 58-39, with 11:26 to go.


Izzo and Johnson first met 25 years ago, when Johnson was a sophomore point guard at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis and Izzo started recruiting him for Michigan State. Johnson ultimately picked Northwestern, where he played two seasons before transferring to Minnesota.

Izzo said this week that Johnson would be his early choice for Big Ten Coach of the Year. Izzo quickly extended congratulations and advice when Johnson was hired this spring.

“When you look at a total program and how he has run that and will run it, from alumni to what he does off the floor, to their brand, to who he is and what he means to that university, I think for all coaches, if you’re not trying to kind of pick apart how he did it, you’re at fault,” Johnson said.


Michigan State: Games like this are exactly why Izzo consistently loads up his early slate with national powers. The Spartans have the strongest schedule among all major conference teams, according to NCAA calculations. Losses to No. 8 Kansas and No. 2 Baylor hurt their record, but helped their cause in a Big Ten road game.

Minnesota: The good news for the Gophers is most of the rest of their opponents won’t be tougher than this, both in terms of talent and tenacity. They’ll have to play near-perfect games to beat the Spartans in the rematch next month, as well as a few other teams in the Big Ten’s top tier, but with Battle the only non-senior in their seven-man rotation they’ve got the experience, confidence and chemistry to be competitive in conference play.


Michigan State hosts Penn State on Saturday. The Spartans are 25-2 all-time at home against the Nittany Lions.

Minnesota plays at Michigan on Saturday. The Gophers have lost seven straight games in Ann Arbor, last winning there in 2011.