LANSING EAST, MICH. –Gophers senior captain Eric Curry was playing the best game of his career Wednesday night before injuring his ankle in the last minute against No.10 Michigan State.
Curry, who has delayed his post as graduate assistant for a sixth season, led his team with a career-high 19 points but he watched helplessly from the bench as his teammates narrowly missed without him.
Joey Hauser’s layup with less than a second to go dashed any hope of a monumental upset in the Gophers’ 71-69 loss to the Spartans, who extended their winning streak to nine consecutive games.
“He’s got his ankle pretty well,” Gophers coach Ben Johnson said of Curry. “I don’t know the extent of it, but EC is a warrior. He’ll be fine.… He’s kind of the leader of our team and he did a great job of showing it. [Wednesday]. “
Curry, who overcame three major injuries earlier in his career, landed awkwardly after a defensive rebound with 59 seconds left. Unable to put weight on the lower part of his left leg, Curry was hauled off the ground by Gophers staff.
Motivated by their inspiring leader sidelined, senior goalkeeper EJ Stephens managed two free throws to tie the score 69-69 with 25.5 seconds left, but that wasn’t enough to keep the Spartans out of the game. escaping their first home loss in the series since 2014-15.
On the last play, Michigan State’s AJ Hoggard led the way and pulled defensemen away from 6-9 Hauser, who saw two Gophers players pass before sinking the shot at close range.
“They were starting to come down and we helped get off the ground a bit too late,” Johnson said. “But there were a few times in this game [the Gophers] could easily have folded. It’s a tough place to play. They did not give in to the crowd. They did not give in to the momentum. They kept coming. “
The Gophers (10-4, 1-4 Big Ten) handled taunts and taunts from the opposing student section and withstood a number of runs from the first-place team in the Big Ten. Four starters scored in double digits for 65 points, including Stephens, who finished second on the team behind Curry with 18 points.
“EC is the heart and soul of this team,” said Stephens. “He’s leading us all over the place. When one of our brothers falls it hurts, but at that point in the game we had to keep pushing and grinding. They made a hell of a game at the end. “
After trailing 10 points in the first half, the Gophers had lost just 34-31 after senior guard Payton Willis beat the buzzer at halftime with a three-pointer to silence the crowd.
Willis, who had just nine points on a 3-on-13 shot in the Dec. 8 75-67 loss to Michigan State at Williams Arena, finished with 15 points on Wednesday.
The Spartans (14-2, 5-0) were unable to play this weekend when their rivalry game against Michigan was postponed due to COVID-19 issues with the Wolverines.
In Sunday’s 73-60 loss to Indiana, the Gophers erased a 12-point second-half deficit to take the lead at Assembly Hall, but couldn’t go scoreless in the final three minutes.
Second-year forward Jamison Battle extended his double-digit streak to 29 with his 10e point on a baseline jumper to tie the score 51-51 (he finished with 13). And Curry followed by fouling Bingham and Hauser under the basket, twice giving the Gophers a one point lead midway through the second half.
BOXSCORE: Michigan State 71, Gophers 69
Willis and Stephens attacked the Michigan state defense by entering the lane overnight. Curry, who also had 18 points in his first meeting with Michigan State, was once again an inner strength. The Gophers outscored the Spartans 30-26 in paint.
Curry, who was in a walking boot after the game, dominated the Michigan State start zone himself in the game, but it was Hauser who decided the outcome of the final game.
The Gophers, who lack depth in the frontcourt, can only hope Curry can recover from another setback like he did before with his head held high.
“If Eric can go there, he will go,” Johnson said. “He’s a grown man. He’ll tell me when he’s ready and do what’s right to be fixed and ready.”