With the Michigan State backcourt already thinned out by injury, the Spartans needed freshman Gary Harris in the lineup Wednesday against No. 18 Minnesota.
Though at times visibly in pain from back spasms, Harris fought to score 15 key points, including a big layup plus the foul with 1:35 remaining to lift No. 8 Michigan State to a 61-50 win over the Gophers at Breslin Center in Lansing, Mich.
Harris also finished 4-of-8 from three-point range, but the biggest concern came with under a minute to go when starting point guard and captain Keith Appling went down in pain with what appeared to be a shoulder injury. He was taken to the locker room, but returned to the bench a short time later.
He did not re-enter the game and an update on the extent of his injury will be provided as it becomes available. He finished with 14 points and three assists.
In the first half, Minnesota was cold from the floor and fell behind, 13-6, with 10:07 to play after a three-pointer from Michigan State Harris.
But at that juncture, Tubby Smith and the Gophers switched to a zone defense that kept Michigan State at bay and sparked a 14-5 run to end the half.
Minnesota’s Rodney Williams’ personal 5-0 run started the Gophers on the right track, punctuated by a Joe Coleman three-pointer with 0:03 before the break to cap the comeback.
Michigan State shot just 24 percent from the floor in the first half and was unable to work the inside game with Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix. The two combined to shoot 0-of-6 from the floor in the first and were scoreless.
Without an inside presence, guards Harris and Appling were able to pace the Spartans in the first with six points each.
Coming out in the second half, the Spartans once again focused on the perimeter.
Harris and Appling hit back-to-back threes to give Michigan State its first lead of the second half, 26-25, with 16:51 to play.
Midway through the half, Payne left the game with a bloody nose after taking an inadvertent elbow to the face.
In his absence, Branden Dawson came alive after a slow first half. He finished with seven points and three steals. Dribble penetration created open shots on the perimeter, with the Spartans shooting 9-of-18 from deep on the game.
Minnesota was able to stay in the game by dominating on the backboards, 36-27. Payne returned to the floor and became the focus down the stretch on the interior and the Gophers had no answer. He finished with 11 points, including a 7-of-8 mark from the free throw line to seal the game in the final minutes.