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Michigan State knocks shorthanded Gophers out of NCAA Tournament

Jordan Murphy missed most of the game because of back spasms.

Back spasms kept All-Big Ten power forward Jordan Murphy out of the Saturday's NCAA Tournament game, and Minnesota was no match for the No. 2 seed Michigan State, falling 70-50 in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Michigan State jumped out to a 31-11 lead in the first 14 minutes of the game and led 33-19 at the half, shooting a blistering 61 percent in the first half compared to just 21.9 percent (7-of-32), including 2-of-16 (12.5 percent) on 3-pointers, for the Gophers. 

Murphy, a senior, started the game but quickly exited with back spasms, spending the rest of the first half trying to loosen up his back behind the Minnesota bench and nearly the entire second half on the bench until he checked in with 1:37 left in the game for a matter of seconds just so the thousands of Minnesota fans in Des Moines could give him a standing ovation. 

It was a brutal loss of a star player for the Gophers, more noticeable since Murphy had never missed a game, let alone a practice, in his career at the University of Minnesota. 

Without Murphy, the Spartans killed the Gophers on the glass, out-rebounding them 21-10 in the first half and 45-19 for the game. 

Amir Coffey was the heart and soul for Minnesota, scoring 27 points and fueling a spirited second-half comeback that cut Michigan State's lead to nine points at 40-31.

That's when Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston scored seven straight points in 54 seconds to push the lead back to 16, effectively ending Minnesota's comeback bid. 

The Gophers finish the season with a record of 22-14 while Michigan State advances to the Sweet 16 where they'll face No. 3 seed LSU. 

We'll follow up this story with a look ahead at the 2019-20 Gophers, which, in short, looks bright with Coffey possibly returning as a senior and Gabe Kalscheur, Daniel Oturu and Jarvis Omersa all gaining valuable valuable experience as true freshmen. 

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