Stamper shields Gophers’ bubble

J’son Stamper saved Minnesota from a blown lead in a 52-50 win over Ohio State.

Bob Wothe

Minnesota men’s basketball junior Vincent Grier leapt onto teammate J’son Stamper’s back and raised his arm in triumph after Saturday’s game against Ohio State at Williams Arena.

It was a rather simple postgame celebration. But it was also appropriate because of what Stamper did for the rest of his teammates down the stretch.

He carried them.

Stamper hit the Gophers’ last two field goals and grabbed the last two rebounds of the game for Minnesota (17-9, 7-6 Big Ten), leading it to a 52-50 defeat of Ohio State (18-9, 7-6) in front of a crowd of 12,528.

In a game that was stunningly similar to other late-game collapses that Minnesota has had at Williams Arena this season, the Gophers blew a seven-point lead with 6 1/2 minutes left and trailed by one with a minute to play.

It was just like the 14-point lead they blew with just more than seven minutes left against Florida State in November and the 10-point lead they blew with just more than four minutes left against Northwestern on Feb. 9.

But this time, Minnesota – mostly Stamper – fought back.

“We felt we had to build this team with character, we had to build it with toughness,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “There are a lot of 6-foot-10 guys running around playing because they’re 6-foot-10. But we went out to get guys that did the things we needed them to do, not because of their height.”

Minnesota had a firm grip on the game before Ohio State went on an 8-0 run to take a 48-47 lead with 3:46 left.

After the teams traded points, though, Stamper put the Gophers ahead for good, somehow gathering a deflected cross-court pass from Brent Lawson and laying it in to put the Gophers in front 51-50 with 35 seconds to go.

Stamper stepped up big again on the next Buckeyes possession, collecting a loose ball in the corner after Terence Dials’ leaner missed and a 10-player tip drill ensued.

“J got a huge rebound like he always does,” Lawson said. “It didn’t surprise any of us that he got that rebound.”

It wasn’t over just yet.

The Buckeyes sent Aaron Robinson, an 85-percent free-throw shooter, to the line with a chance to put the Gophers ahead by three.

He hit just one of two, though, and the Buckeyes had a chance to tie.

But J.J. Sullinger couldn’t hit a tough shot with less than five seconds left, and Stamper collected his sixth rebound of the game as Minnesota held on to win.

The character Stamper played with was evident in other Gophers as well.

Minnesota’s defense limited the Buckeyes to just 19 points on 25 percent shooting.

“We had some pretty good looks there,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “And we just could not get the ball in.”

Yet, the Gophers weren’t able to fully capitalize on the Buckeyes’ struggles from the field and only led 24-19 at the half.

Minnesota opened the second half on a terror, though, scoring the half’s first seven points in less than two minutes to lead by as much as 12 at 31-19.

The team blew that lead.

But in what some considered the first of four must-win games, Stamper and the Gophers did just that.

“That was a character win,” Monson said. “That was a good basketball team, and to sweep that team in the Big Ten is a real accomplishment for us.”

Grier earns honor

Grier was named first team All-District by the National Association of Basketball Coaches on Friday.

Kris Humphries earned the same honor last season.

Grier’s 17.9 points per game in Big Ten games leads Minnesota and is second in the conference.