EAST LANSING, Mich. – Minutes after the Gophers dropped an 87-75 heartbreaker at No. 5 Michigan State in overtime, Richard Pitino faced the media, looked up and squinted.
“Lights bright enough?” the Minnesota coach asked, referring to the multiple spotlights aimed at him.
At the start of the game, similar beams lit up the Gophers like a beacon, serving no other purpose than to reflect Minnesota’s own luster. But by the time Pitino made his way to the postgame gathering at the Breslin Center, the shine had started to feel more like a glare.
For most of the game, the Gophers (13-4, 2-2 Big Ten) gleamed. With the Spartans’ powerful center, Adreian Payne, on the bench with a sore foot, the Gophers put together their most efficient all-around half of the season. Even after letting a 10-point lead get away in the second, the Gophers battled back to force overtime in the last second of regulation.
But in the extra period, when the lights shone brightest, the Gophers came out looking dull, missing out on the opportunity to secure the program’s first victory over a top-five team in a true road game.
“It’s not a moral victory for us,” said Andre Hollins, who led the Gophers with 24 points, five rebounds and a clutch performance down the stretch. “We came in expecting to win. ... We come in here, we take them to the wire in overtime at their place. It shows what type of team we are. But we’ve just got to execute.”
DeAndre Mathieu’s layup with 1 second to play sent the Gophers to overtime after they had clawed back from a five-point deficit. The momentum abruptly shifted in overtime.
Austin Hollins and Elliott Eliason (seven points, 11 rebounds) both fouled out, and the Gophers couldn’t do much to stop a 16-4 finishing run for the Spartans, who made 12 of 14 free throws in the extra period.
“Our defense just went to shambles and we made some crazy plays offensively that were just not any good,” Eliason said. “It shouldn’t have even came to that, to be honest with you. It shouldn’t have came to overtime. It should have been done at the end of the game.”
The Gophers, who had a 41-36 lead at halftime, stretched their advantage to 10 points in the second half before the Spartans (15-1, 4-0) went on a 15-0 run, holding Minnesota without a field goal for nearly 13 minutes and taking the five-point lead with 8:36 to go. The Gophers made 10 consecutive free throws in the last 8:06 of play — six after Andre Hollins was fouled on consecutive three-point shots — and got two huge three-point baskets from Malik Smith leading up to Mathieu’s last-second play.
Pitino said he was looking to set up a three-pointer, but after the play broke down, the 5-9 Mathieu drove to the hoop for the finish at the rim.
Immediately following the loss, disappointment reigned.
“Any time you go on the road, great environment, and you step up for 40 minutes and you don’t win the game, it’s a bit of a missed opportunity,” Pitino said. “But there will be plenty more, unfortunately. If you look at our schedule, we play top-five teams every day.”