Midway through the second half on Monday, everything seemed to be working out for the Michigan State basketball team.
It had overcome a 12-point first-half deficit, watched Derrick Nix miss close shot after close shot and, most importantly, had taken care of the ball.
In a season plagued by turnovers, the Spartans were finally hanging on to it and found themselves with a five-point lead with less than 10 minutes to play.
That’s when things started to crumble.
More accurately, that’s when the ball started to become tough to hang on to.
Minnesota, behind a raucous crowd at Williams Arena, ended the game on a 22-4 run to beat Michigan State, 76-63.
“I think it might have been (fatigue),” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We wanted to go in, give them some credit, their defense. I thought they played pretty well and that was part of it. They did a pretty good job defensively on us, but Keith I thought made a couple of errors. The one hook pass to AP, he’s wide open for a dunk and he just threw it like a bullet. That would have cut it to one I think.
“We really crumbled down the stretch and I think a little bit of it was their defense, a little bit of it was our offense.”
Keith Appling managed to score 15 points to lead the Spartans while Gary Harris had 12 and Derrick Nix scored 10.
But Nix was only 5-for-15 from the field.
“I missed a lot of shots that I made in the last game,” Nix said. “They weren’t bad shots where I wasn’t following through, they just didn’t go in for me. It’s tough, but in the second half I shot a hook and it went right in. So you can play mind games with yourself or you can play through it.”
Izzo thought Nix was worn down late in the game.
“He’s been making them in practice, he made them last week,” Izzo said. “I mean, his were, I mean those two or three put-backs were, you can’t get any closer except to dunk it. I don’t know why. Maybe I played him a few too many minutes. I’ll have to take a look at that. I don’t think he’s a 30-minute a game player and yet he didn’t show fatigue. But he showed it in other ways.”
But Nix said he felt fine.
“We can find excuses, but I’m not making any for myself,” he said. “I wasn’t tired at all, I just missed shots. I got 15 shots. I can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Michigan State had a hard time stopping Minnesota’s Andre Hollins, who scored 22 points and hit tough shot after tough shot.
“I thought he made two big pull-up going right jump shots,” Izzo said. “I mean, both of them I thought were well-contested. One on the baseline and one on the right wing. I mean, give him credit. I think he’s their most improved player, if you ask me.”
Minnesota also got 15 points from Rodney Williams, 12 from Austin Hollins and 11 from Trevor Mbakwe.
Izzo and the Michigan State players feel like they let a potential win slip away.
“I’m disappointed because I thought we had a chance to steal a game,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I feel it’s a missed opportunity because I did feel we could steal one at that point (late in the game).”
Added Nix, “This was hurtful. We almost had it and this would have made stuff so much better, to put our team at a different level confidence-wise. … You’re up five on the road with seven minutes to go, that’s when you’ve got to bear down and I feel like we didn’t bear down as a team.”
The loss was the first one for Michigan State at Minnesota since 2006 and means they open the Big Ten season with a loss after a non-conference season that was OK at best.
Now Purdue comes to town on Sunday.
“We’ve just got to bounce back when we play Purdue,” Nix said.
Izzo thinks there was enough to look forward to.
“There were more encouraging things for me,” Izzo said. “That sounds dumb, because the program’s got to be at a different level here, but I think there were more encouraging things. I thought we played pretty well first half. Not as well the second half as fatigue (set in) a little bit.”