EAST LANSING, Mich. — Nothing came easy for Michigan State. Minnesota made sure of that in their second meeting of the season.
Marcus Bingham Jr. and Tyson Walker were relegated to the bench midway through the second half. The Gophers continued counterpunching any time the 10th-ranked Spartans appeared to be gaining momentum.
That left the game in the hands of A.J. Hoggard, Joey Hauser and Malik Hall. And they delivered.
Hoggard’s drive and dish to Hauser with 0.1 left on the clock delivered a 71-69 escape against the Gophers on Wednesday night, and the Spartans’ ninth straight win in their first game in a week.
Max Christie scored 16 points with five rebounds and four assists to lead MSU (14-2, 5-0). Gabe Brown added 13 points and Walker had 10.
But when it came to crunch time down the stretch, it was the unheralded trio of Hoggard, Hall and Hauser who took control.
Hall scored all seven of his points after checking in for the first time in the second half with 16:13 to play. That came after Bingham went to the bench with 10:14 to play, with Hall and Houser taking over in the paint.
Hoggard had five points and three assists after halftime, playing the final 10:43 after Walker went to the bench. It is unclear why neither Bingham nor Walker returned, but Walker asked out of the game and had taken a hard fall earlier in the game.
And Hauser, who had been much maligned for much of the past two years, made all three of his shots — none bigger than a high-rising finger-roll in traffic after Hoggard’s dish through the trees.
Eric Curry had 19 points and seven rebounds to lead Minnesota (10-4, 1-4), which has lost three in a row. E.J. Stephens added 18 points, Jamison Battle added 13 points and seven boards, and Payton Willis had 15 points and five rebounds. The Gophers entered Wednesday ranked 349th of 350 teams in offensive rebounds per game and 331st in rebounding margin but gave Tom Izzo’s board-minded team everything it could handle on the glass. Minnesota finished with a 12-6 edge in offensive rebounds and a 17-8 advantage in second-chance points.
MSU appeared on its way to another workmanlike performance in the first half. Then things unraveled over the final 5 minutes.
Bingham, Walker and Christie all started strong as the Spartans dictated the tempo and tone early. Those three combined for 16 of the Spartans’ first 18 points, with Christie’s rebound and put-back followed by a 3-pointer in transition sparking a 14-3 run in the middle of the half. A pair of Brown free throws put MSU up 27-17 with 5:09 remaining.
But Minnesota chipped away and took advantage of the Spartans’ defensive breakdowns on the glass. The Gophers got six of their 11 second-chance points in the final 4:41, with Charlie Daniels’ rebound and layup sparking a 14-7 run to close the half.
Izzo went to his bench with 6.6 seconds left before intermission to use Davis Smith in a foul situation. But the sophomore was late on the first, which got whistled on Brown, then took the second with 2.6 ticks to go. He went to the bench, and Willis hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to slice the Spartans’ lead to 34-31 going into halftime.
The Gophers made six of their final eight shots in the half after opening the half 7 for 20, while MSU went the final 2:38 without a field goal.
Stephens had 10 points in the first half and hit the first bucket out of halftime to pull Minnesota within two points. And it stayed that way for much of the first 10 minutes, with the Spartans showing signs of life with a four-point possession and then five straight points from Walker, only for the Gophers to quickly find an answer both times.
Minnesota pulled into the lead for the first time since 6:45 in when Battle drained a corner jumper and Curry hit a free throw to put MSU behind, 52-51. But the Spartans countered with a 6-1 spurt that included a 3-pointer from Hall, who had 15 points in their 75-67 win Dec. 8 in Minneapolis but who was scoreless Wednesday up until that basket.
Hall added to it with two jumpers and Christie added another to build the Spartans’ lead back to six with inside six minutes to play. But Minnesota would not go away until the final buzzer sounded.
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