DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Michigan State is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015 after rolling past Minnesota 70-50 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
The Spartans (30-6) came out making shots at a blistering pace and were never seriously threatened, a stark contrast to their nerve-wracking first-round win over Bradley on Thursday.
The win in the battle of Big Ten teams sends the second-seeded Spartans to an East Region semifinal against LSU in Washington, D.C.
The Spartans made 9 of their first 10 shots on their way to building a 20-point lead in the first 14 minutes. Minnesota managed to pull within single digits briefly in the second half before Big Ten player of the year Cassius Winston took matters into his hands.
Xavier Tillman had 14 points, Winston added 13 with nine assists, and the Spartans shot 57.1 percent.
Amir Coffey had 27 points to lead the 10th-seeded Gophers, who shot a season-worst 30.5 percent and made only 2 of 22 3-pointers.
Minnesota (23-14) had played its best game of the season in beating Louisville in the first round, but it struggled shooting early and was hamstrung by the absence of forward Jordan Murphy. The Gophers’ No. 1 all-time rebounder and No. 2 scorer spent most of the first half behind the bench stretching his tight back. He was limited to four minutes, his fewest since his freshman year.
Murphy, whose absence was a big reason MSU held a 45-19 rebounding advantage, subbed in for 10 seconds in the final two minutes. Gophers fans chanted his name as he came out and went down the bench hugging coaches and teammates.
It was the first time Big Ten teams met in the tournament since 2000 and at the earliest point ever. The Spartans hope the dominating performance lets them move on from the enduring image of Thursday’s game — coach Tom Izzo coming onto the court to berate Aaron Henry at a timeout and then having players hold him back as he went after the freshman again on the bench.
Izzo should have had no complaints Saturday. His team beat the Gophers for the second time this season, following up a 79-55 victory on Feb. 9 in East Lansing, Michigan, and made it to the second weekend of the tournament for the first time in four years, an eternity by MSU standards.
The Gophers’ problems went beyond Murphy’s absence. Gabe Kalscheur, who had 24 points against Louisville, had foul trouble and didn’t score until making two free throws with 15 minutes left in the game.
Still, Minnesota tried to make it interesting, running off eight straight points to pull to 40-31. Then Winston took over for a spell. He got a rebound and made a shot from the wing at the other end, made a steal and another jumper, and swiped the ball again and buried a 3-pointer to make it 47-31. The lead swelled to as much as 22 points from there.
Minnesota: The Gophers’ lack of depth caught up to them. Not only was Murphy out for all but four minutes, they also were without reserve big man Matz Stockman for the third game in a row because of a concussion.