No Big Ten opponent had dominated the Gophers like Michigan State during Richard Pitino's seven-season tenure as men's basketball coach.
The tables were turned at least for one night.
Fresh off earning their first Top 25 ranking in three years, the No. 21 Gophers ran away from the No. 17 Spartans from start to finish behind a combined 37 points from Marcus Carr and Liam Robbins in a resounding 81-56 victory Monday at Williams Arena.
The Gophers (9-1, 2-1 Big Ten) matched their biggest margin of victory ever in the series; the 1997 Final Four team won 68-43 in East Lansing, though that result has been vacated. Pitino picked up his first home victory against Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo, who hadn't lost at the Barn since 2012.
"I have so much respect for Coach Izzo," Pitino said. "I have so much respect for Michigan State and what they're all about. So, it's another win vs. a Top-25 team, a team everyone in this league really, really respects."
Entering Monday, the Spartans (6-3, 0-3) had won 24 of the past 27 meetings during the regular season, including seven consecutive regular-season victories since 2015. Michigan State is now off to its worst start in Big Ten play since 2001-02.
The Gophers were tougher physically and mentally coming off an emotionally charged 102-95 overtime victory over then-No. 4 Iowa on Friday, when the Gophers rallied from seven points down with 44 seconds left.
"Right from the beginning I thought we set the tone with our physicality," Pitino said.
This was a much different Izzo squad than the one that played in the Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium two seasons ago. Not only were the Spartans missing surefire NBA-level talent, but they allowed the Gophers to dominate in rebounding margin (52-26) and points in the paint (40-16).
It helped that the home team established an inside presence early with its 7-footer Robbins, who had 12 of his 18 points in the first half. After Robbins scored the first six points of the game, Carr's three-pointer made it 9-0 before Izzo could blink.
The Spartans cut it to 15-9 midway through the first half, but Robbins' layup sparked the Gophers on a 16-2 run. Eric Curry's two free throws gave them a 31-11 lead with 3:10 left.
Michigan State was held scoreless for 5 minutes, 28 seconds in the first half, which included 12 consecutive missed shots. The Gophers had no baskets for more than three minutes, but Carr's three-pointer to beat the buzzer gave them a 36-16 lead at halftime.
"We really took an emphasis on the rebounding side of things," senior Brandon Johnson said. "Last game we gave up [23 offensive rebounds to Iowa]. There was a major emphasis on boxing out and making sure we don't get beat that way, because Michigan State, that was their motto."
After hitting 17 three-pointers on a program-record 43 attempts against Iowa, the Gophers didn't just rely on the outside shot Monday, when they shot only 24% (6-for-25) from deep but 63% (24-for-38) from inside the arc.
The second half was more of the same for the Gophers. Gabe Kalscheur and Both Gach combined for eight points during an 11-2 run. Gach's old-fashioned three-point play gave Minnesota its biggest lead 47-21.
Gophers fans aren't allowed to attend games during the pandemic, but they wondered how their team would fare in the Big Ten after a 27-point loss Dec. 15 conference opener at Illinois.
The Gophers answered those questions in a big way by beating St. Louis, Iowa and Michigan State, all NCAA tournament-caliber teams that were favored at Williams Arena. They have back-to-back victories vs. ranked foes for the first time since the 2010 Big Ten tournament. They can make it three in a row Thursday at No. 6 Wisconsin, which lost at home to unranked Maryland on Monday.
"I definitely think we're excited because we worked really hard," Robbins said. "Seeing the results is definitely a pleasant surprise."