Getting a road win in the Big Ten this season has been a chore. In fact, earning any win seems like quite the accomplishment.
As Minnesota gets set to host No. 11 Michigan State on Sunday, the Spartans and Golden Gophers are fully aware of how tough life in the conference is. But both are ridingsignificant waves of emotion.
Michigan State is coming off its second straight road loss, starting slowly at Indiana on Thursday before rallying back to take a second-half lead, only to fall short.
The Gophers shrugged off a loss at Rutgers by bouncing back with a 62-59 win at Ohio State thanks to a deep 3-pointer from Marcus Carr in the final minute.
"It feels awesome," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "It doesn't matter where you play in this league, if you get a win it's cause for celebration, and it's a cause for feeling good. We'll feel good tonight, then we'll get over it. It's very, very hard to win in this league, and we're getting some quality wins. We've got some great opportunities coming up."
The Spartans (14-5, 6-2 Big Ten) got the best of the Gophers (11-8, 5-4) in the first meeting in early January, but that game came in East Lansing, Mich.
Michigan State's task now is figuring out a way to avoid slow starts away from home -- it found itself in double-digit holes in the first five minutes of each of its last two road games -- and avoiding falling out of the top spot in the conference, a place it shares with Illinois.
"We've got to be able to match the energy from the jump," sophomore guard Aaron Henry said. "We've got to fight from the jump and not just bring it after (the game starts). That's been our problem on the road."
The Spartans have been getting solid play from junior big man Xavier Tillman, who could be key against Minnesota sophomore Daniel Oturu, leading the league in rebounding at 11.6 per game and second in scoring (19.7 points a game).
The problem for Michigan State has been its guard play. Senior Cassius Winston struggled in games against Purdue and Wisconsin, missing all eight tries from 3-point range in those games. His issues continued in the first half at Indiana.
Winston rebounded with a big second half and nearly led the comeback but now is focused on getting Michigan State to avoid going winless this week.
"This was a good game because we played a really good second half but didn't finish it out," Winston said. "I'm gonna try to carry that second half to Minnesota and just come out of this trip with a split. I don't know where we are in the Big Ten, but we're still up there, we're still competing for (a title) and the end goal is still intact. It's still there.
"So, this loss hurts. It could have been a real separator. We can't let it turn into two losses. We've got to learn from it and move on to the next one and keep moving forward."
--Field Level Media