Minnesota cemented its status as a contender for the Big Ten championship on Monday.
The Golden Gophers, ranked ninth in the nation, knocked off No. 18 Michigan State 76-63 in a battle of top-tier Big Ten teams, and it was the kind of win Minnesota needed to prove it is good enough to be a conference title contender.
Minnesota could have folded easily when the Spartans surged in front 55-51 in the second half, but instead, it put its mental toughness on display and found a way to get the job done.
The Golden Gophers couldn’t afford to lose a game at home, not when road wins in this conference could be tougher to find than buried treasure at the bottom of the ocean.
The way head coach Tubby Smith sees it, his team’s win over the Spartans is a good sign for a team that would have lost a game like this in the past.
“We’re finally, I think, growing up,” Smith said in a post-game press conference.
The Golden Gophers still have some growing up to do, but a win over a Michigan State team that will be very good when it’s all said and done, is a huge step in the maturation process for Minnesota.
After all, this was the first time Minnesota has beaten Michigan State in the regular season since 2006, and it earned the win by closing the game on an 18-2 run.
“We knew our history with Michigan State…We have leads and they come out and pull away in the last three minutes,” Minnesota star Trevor Mbakwe said in a post-game press conference. “But we wanted to take care of them and we wanted to him them back and take care of homecourt.”
The Golden Gophers did just that and took a big step forward in the process.
Brian Lester is a featured Big Ten columnist and college basketball writer for Rant Sports. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association as well.
Follow him on Twitter @BLester1993 or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.