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Gophers fall to Michigan State NCAA tournament’s second round

Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Amir Coffey (5) falls to the court against Michigan State Spartans forward Aaron Henry (11) during the second half in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday, March 23. Jeffrey Becker / USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Michigan State Spartans forward Aaron Henry (11) and Minnesota Golden Gophers forward Michael Hurt (42) go for a loose ball during the second half in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena. Jeffrey Becker / USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Gophers’ men’s basketball team’s most successful season in five years ended in the second round of NCAA tournament on Saturday.

After their first win in March Madness since 2013, seventh-seeded Minnesota fell to second-seeded Michigan State 70-50 at Wells Fargo Arena.

With all-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy’s bad back limiting him to only four minutes, guard Amir Coffey tried to put his team on his back with a game high 25 points.

After trailing 14 at the half, the Gophers (22-14) put together an 8-0 run to excite the majority-Minnesota crowd. But Spartans point guard Cassius Winston, the Big Ten player of the year, answered with his own 7-0 run.

The Big Ten regular season and tournament champion Spartans (30-6) were a 10-point favorite and extended the lead to as many as 23 in the second half.

The Gophers couldn’t advance to their first Sweet 16 since 1990. The U did make it that far in 1997, but that trip was vacated because of the Gophers’ academic scandal.

The Gophers were among a record seven Big Ten teams to advance to the round of 32. After an mild upset win over Louisville on Thursday, the U’s matchup with Michigan State was the earliest intra-league matchup in the tournament since it went to 64 teams in 1985.

The Gophers weren’t competitive in their one previous matchup with Michigan State in East Lansing on Feb. 9. On the anniversary of the Spartans’ 1979 national championship, Minnesota fell behind early, and it snowballed in a 79-55 defeat.

Saturday, after a loud rendition of the “Rouser” and the Gophers scoring the first basket, the Spartans took over with the next 11 points. The Gophers never led again, which was very similar to their first matchup.

Four minutes into the game, Murphy, the Big Ten’s all-time leading rebounder, showed limited mobility after back spasms flared up in the second half of the 86-76 win over Louisville on Thursday. He was in discomfort the rest of the way, and he didn’t participate in Friday’s practice.

Murphy’s movement was limited to start the game. Kalscheur tried an entry feed. but Murphy couldn’t go get to it. Michigan State went out on the fast break, ending in a Kenny Goins layup. With one rebound and one shot attempt, Murphy was subbed out at 15:51.

Toward the end of the first half, coach Richard Pitino called a timeout to stop the bleeding from a 14-0 Michigan State run, and Murphy seemed to say to someone in the crowd, “I can’t. I can’t.”

The Gophers brought Murphy back into the game for one possession in order to give him a curtain call. He came off crying as he hugged Pitino and assistants.

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