Michigan State (15-1, 4-0 Big Ten), the fifth-ranked team in the nation, isn't usually used to feeling the pressure from a tough, but ultimately beatable team like Minnesota (13-4, 2-2). But having to battle back from being down 10 points in the final minutes and heading to the free-throw line to seal the lead, is just what sophomore guard Gary Harris and his Spartans were faced with. On Sunday, Harris told reporters that injuries mounting on the team were beginning to take their toll.
On Saturday night, at a packed Breslin Center in East Lansing, Harris headed to the line with a team-best 88 percent shooting from the spot entering that game against the Gophers. Unfortunately, despite these numbers, Harris missed not only his first, but second free throw shot, as well. It was dire straights.
"For a few minutes,'' Harris said of his free throws' sticking in his mind. "It's unacceptable, inexcusable. I take full responsibility for that. Once overtime started, I was able to forget about it.''
Still, Harris said the feeling was there for success.
"They (free throws) felt good,'' he added. "They just didn't go in.''
Harris had turned up his game in the second half, scoring 14 of his 19 points, and ultimately the Spartans were able to pull away in the final seconds to win the game 87-75 in another tight overtime battle.
One of the major issues for Michigan State was the fact that star forward Adreian Payne was forced to sit out with plantar fasciitis, a common heel ailment that made Payne unable to take part in the effort. In fact, injuries on the whole had been mounting for the Spartans and Harris himself told reporters that the boys in Green and White were slowly but surely starting to feel the pressure of playing undermanned.
"It's tough,'' Harris said. "We've been plagued with some injuries here and there, kind of unfortunate.
"But guys are stepping up and we're still winning games, and that's the main focus. Everyone made plays today in overtime and that helped us out.''
Harris himself has been playing through some ankle pain, but taking measures to make sure he can be at the top of his game come each pregame workout.
"I'm getting better each and every day,'' Harris said. "I'm trying to do the little bit I can without killing myself. It's getting back into the swing of things. Once you miss a month and half or so and you're back in the fire, you don't get back in the swing right away.
"I'm trying to get back to how I was in the summer, and I'm slowly but surely getting there.''
Being at number five in the rankings can be no picnic according to Harris, with the team not necessarily being the best in the country, but not considered poor enough to fall out of the top ten.
"Big Ten season is a grind in itself, (and) we're still figuring out how to get wins,'' Harris said. "Sometimes it gets tough for us and pushes our back to the wall, but we get wins, and that's the name of the game.
"We're 4-0 right now and we have a big game with Northwestern (on Wednesday).''
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.