He only scored two points in the first half, but MSU’s All-American guard showed up big in the second, carrying the No. 11 Spartans to a big road win against Minnesota, 78-73.
Drew Neitzel made five three pointers in the second half and finished with 19 points, finally breaking out of a shooting slump since Big Ten conference play started.
The win was huge in many ways for MSU (16-2, 4-1), showing that their disappointing loss on the road at Iowa last week would not carry over.
The Spartans led 31-27 at halftime behind freshmen Kalin Lucas’ 10 points and Chris Allen’s nine. Behind Neitzel, MSU shot 50 percent from the field in the game.
Lawrence McKenzie scored 20 points to lead the Gophers (12-5, 2-3), who would keep the game close until the final minutes.
But Neitzel’s three-pointers were timely and clutch, answering back Gopher baskets on the other end.
Spencer Tollackson’s three-point play brought Minnesota within 31-30 to open the second half, but Neitzel responded with a three-pointer on the other end to push the lead to 34-30.
Four minutes later, the Gophers suddenly took the lead, 40-38 on McKenzie's three. But MSU would reclaim the lead (41-40) on another Neitzel three.
Three minutes after, Lawrence Westbrook’s layup brought the Gophers within 45-44. Neitzel would drain yet another three-pointer to make it 48-44 and give his team some breathing room midway through the second half.
Two minutes later, Neitzel countered another Westbrook layup with a three-pointer, putting MSU up 55-49.
But the biggest three that Neitzel made could have been his last one, which came with 6:24 left in the game and MSU clinging to a 57-53 lead.
After Tollackson missed two free-throws, Drew Naymick grabbed the rebound and fed a streaking Neitzel on the fast break.
With the Minnesota defense caught running the court, Neitzel pulled up and drained a three-pointer that gave the Spartans their biggest lead of the game to that point, 60-53.
The big shot sparked a 5-2 MSU run, which increased the lead up to 10 points with less than four minutes to play.
Neitzel broke out of his shooting slump in a big way, as Tom Izzo hopes his senior guard will keep it up, especially when the Spartans hit the road.
"He's been struggling," said coach Tom Izzo. "The second half was the first time he shot like you saw last year in probably 10 games. Hopefully this will be a start for him because we really need him."
Besides Neitzel’s shooting, Izzo should also be happy about his team’s rebounding, as MSU outrebounded the Gophers 33-27.
After turning the ball over 12 times in the first half, including numerous traveling calls, which have plagued them recently, MSU turned it over just six times in the second half.
After having a career-high 31 points and 10 rebounds two weeks ago against Minnesota, Raymar Morgan scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds. Morgan struggled from the free-throw line, missing his first seven shots at the charity stripe and finishing 5-for-12 in the game.
Despite only having one personal foul against the Gophers, Morgan has been plagued by foul trouble in his previous two games, only scoring 16 points combined.
Next up for MSU is road game against Northwestern on Thursday night.