Your Gophers beat man is pressed for time because of Boys State Hockey Tournament obligations, but hey, it’s worth a quick post anytime the Golden Gophers punch their ticket to the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals.
Here are five takeaways from the game that Minnesota (24-8) won 63-58.
1. Reggie Lynch was the difference maker.
Minnesota’s big man took a hit to the face while contesting a shot early in the second half and had to leave the game with a bleedy mouth and wobbly tooth. But it was only a minor speedbump for the Gophers’ most important defensive piece. Lynch returned minutes later and sparked an 8-0 run that gave Minnesota a 41-33 lead.
He finished the game with 16 points on 6 of 7 shooting with five blocks and four rebounds. Minnesota needed him badly after Jordan Murphy left the game early with two fouls. In the Gophers’ regular season-ending loss to Wisconsin, Lynch and Murphy were off the floor late in the second half due to foul issues and watched the Badgers run away with the game. But with Lynch playing his best against Michigan State, the Gophers were the ones pulling away down the stretch.
2. Offensive rebounds were an issue.
Minnesota was outboarded on the offensive glass 19-12. At one point, the differential was 12-4. This stat alone made the game far more interesting than it should have been. The Gophers defended well, holding the Spartans to 33 percent shooting, but when it came to boxing out, Minnesota was outworked. Michigan State’s guards were quicker to loose balls and used tapbacks to their advantage. In the end, the Spartans edged the Gophers 14-8 in second chance points. Richard Pitino’s club has been one of the nation’s better rebounding clubs this year, but they’ve shown a few cracks of late. That will need to change for the Big Dance.
3. Miles Bridges is a stud.
This is not new information, but the Gophers hadn’t exactly seen Bridges at his best earlier in the season. He was out with injury during their first meeting and was just getting back from injury in their second meeting. On Friday, he was magnificent with two high-flying alley-oop slams, a breathtaking putback slam, a 360 breakaway dunk and a pair of 3-point shots. In a contest without much offense, Bridges provided the fireworks with 20 points in the loss. Every Big Ten team will be hoping he goes pro and leaves the Big Ten this offseason.
4. Akeem Springs may have suffered a serious injury.
The Gophers have been extremely healthy this season since losing Davonte Fitzgerald (knee) before the year began. But an injury Friday to senior leader Akeem Springs came at the worst possible time. While trying to work around a screen late in the second half, Springs crumpled and went down to the floor. He seemed to be reaching for his right foot or heel and was later seen on crutches with his foot wrapped behind the bench. If Springs is out for the rest of the season, it costs the Gophers a great defender and 3-point shooter. If there is a bright side, it’s that Minnesota has been winning over the past half dozen games or so without Springs playing very good basketball. Nonetheless, he’s a starter and an emotional leader. He’d be greatly missed.
5. Michigan awaits.
The game before Gophers-Spartans was the best game of the Big Ten Tournament so far. Michigan, the 8 seed, took Purdue, the 1 seed, to overtime and emerged with a 74-70 victory. It’s been a wild few days for the Wolverines, who dealt with a scary plane incident during takeoff on their way to Washington D.C., had their flight delayed and didn’t arrive at the arena until one hour prior to their first game against Illinois. It doesn’t seem to have fazed John Beilein’s team, though, which now faces the Gophers in the semi-final round at 12:00 Central on Saturday.