EAST LANSING, MICH. - The Gophers seemed ready.
Three consecutive victories suggested they were ready to make some noise in the Big Ten, that they were ready to compete, and win, against the league's best.
But they weren't ready for this.
The Gophers, who never had a lead after their first shot, couldn't turn a late run into something meaningful and No. 10 Michigan State never took its foot off the gas. The Spartans -- behind powerful outings from forward Draymond Green and guard Branden Dawson -- outshot, outrebounded and simply outmusculed the Gophers 68-52 at Breslin Center.
Minnesota officially has not won at Michigan State since 1990; the Gophers' 1996 and '97 victories here have been redacted.
"We battled and battled, but we lost the toughness part of it because I thought they just out-physicaled us in a lot of ways," Gophers coach Tubby Smith said after his team handed Michigan State coach Tom Izzo his 400th career victory.
The loss for the Gophers (15-6, 3-5 Big Ten) -- who were beat on the boards 32-24 and held to only 38.3 percent shooting for the game -- halted a three-game winning streak and paused their attempt to return from an 0-4 start to conference play.
But with 9 minutes, 45 seconds left in the second half, the Gophers briefly made it a game. A 10-2 run, capped by a layup from center Ralph Sampson III, had put the Gophers within 46-41 when guard Joe Coleman stole the ball from Dawson. But Dawson snatched it back before Coleman had the chance to do anything, and was fouled at the basket.
Dawson, who had 16 points and four rebounds for MSU (17-4, 6-2), sank only one of his two free-throw attempts, but the palpable momentum was gone, and two minutes later the Gophers would be down by double digits again.
"We had them on the ropes and after Joe made that turnover after the steal, we kind of just never got back into the flow of things," forward Rodney Williams said after leading the Gophers with 15 points. "And that's something we're going to have to change if we want to compete with the best teams in this league."
Coleman had nine points and eight rebounds for the Gophers, who before Wednesday had played very well on the road -- and against good teams -- this season. They grabbed their first conference victory by winning at then-No. 7 Indiana in one of their most complete games of the season. Even when they haven't won, they played well in tight games at Illinois and Michigan.
But the Spartans' physical presence seemed too much for the Gophers to handle from the tipoff. Williams was overmatched in defending Green (22 points, 14 rebounds, six assists) and the Gophers -- who had 20 points inside to the Spartans' 38 -- struggled to get in the paint.
"I think this will probably be the toughest team we'll play," Williams said. "All the guys, they're pretty big on the outside and inside."
That showed again in the second half. After the Gophers brought it to five, they lost it as quickly as they had grabbed it. Julian Welch and Williams, who made three three-pointers, hit two from behind the arc in the late minutes, but the Gophers missed five of their last seven shots to go out with a thud.
But a loss at Breslin Center isn't a résumé killer for any team, even one that started conference play off as sluggishly as the Gophers did.