Hoffarber carries Gophers past No. 8 Purdue

The senior guard scored 26 points to help Minnesota avoid a 1-4 start in Big Ten play.

by Josh Katzenstein

Before the Gophers menâÄôs basketball game Thursday, there were two questions on many peopleâÄôs mind.

The first was how long Trevor Mbakwe would be on the bench at the beginning of the game as part of his punishment for being arrested on Monday after violating a harassment restraining order (3 minutes, 44 seconds for those counting).

The other was how long Minnesota could hang with No. 8 Purdue, the Big TenâÄôs third-best defensive team that would surely exploit the GophersâÄô problems in the half-court offense.

Blake Hoffarber decided to change the storyline.

The senior guard scored 26 points âÄî one shy of his career best âÄî on 10-for-15 shooting to lead the Gophers to a 70-67 victory over Purdue.

âÄúI feel like IâÄôm going to make the majority of my shots all the time, but tonight was just another feeling,âÄù said Hoffarber, who was 5-for-7 from 3-point range. âÄúIt felt like the rim was just a little bigger than normal.âÄù

ThursdayâÄôs win was the GophersâÄô second over a top-10 opponent this season. They beat then-No. 8 North Carolina on Nov. 19 in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but Hoffarber said this win was a bit more meaningful because it prevented the Gophers (13-4 overall, 2-3 Big Ten) from starting 1-4 in conference play.

âÄúI feel good about tonight,âÄù coach Tubby Smith said. âÄúI think we should be undefeated to be honest. I wasnâÄôt happy at all being 1-3. IâÄôm a little happier being 2-3.âÄù
Much of the game felt like a back-and-forth scoring battle between Hoffarber and Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, who finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds. Both players made their first four shots, and Johnson scored the BoilermakersâÄô first nine points. But in the end, it was Hoffarber who had more support as the Gophers ended a 10-game winning streak by the Boilermakers.

Al NolenâÄôs 3-pointer with 3:15 remaining gave the Gophers a 70-67 lead, and neither team scored the rest of the way. Purdue took a timeout with 10.1 left, but couldnâÄôt find an open shot. The Boilermakers didnâÄôt make a field goal during the final 9:21 after taking a 61-57 lead.

âÄúI thought our guys did a better job of challenging their shots in the second half,âÄù said Smith of his defense that held Purdue to just 26.9 percent shooting after intermission. âÄúWe didnâÄôt do a good job in the first half; they got a lot of wide open looks, so we made some adjustments.âÄù

The Gophers led 41-40 at halftime in an extremely fast-paced 20 minutes that yielded eight lead changes. Minnesota came out a little faster than Purdue in the second half and jumped out to a 53-45 lead, but the Boilermakers answered with a 9-0 run to take a 54-53 lead on two Johnson free throws.

But Johnson couldnâÄôt do it by himself and found little support from PurdueâÄôs second-leading scorer EâÄôTwaun Moore, whom the Gophers held to just five points on 2-for-14 shooting.

âÄúI couldnâÄôt be prouder of our kids and their ability to stay focused, to overcome some of the distractions weâÄôve of had late and to rally around their teammates,âÄù Smith said. âÄúIt all happens within their heart and within their minds, and I thought tonight our kids believed they could win and went out and did it.âÄù

Mbakwe, who publicly apologized to the team Tuesday after becoming the latest distraction in a season filled with them (Devoe Joseph recently transferred to Oregon), came into the game at the 16:16 mark in the first half with the Gophers down 9-6 and after the student section chanted, “We want Trevor!”

Mbakwe finished with 10 rebounds and seven points in 31 minutes, and Smith said he didnâÄôt notice the chant.

Nolen contributed 13 points, eight assists and three steals and managed a fast-paced game to near perfection with just one turnover in 39 minutes.
âÄúAl had a great night taking care of the basketball and running the show,âÄù Smith said.

The Gophers now look forward to a significantly easier three-game stretch with games against Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern. Their three conference losses came on the road against three of the Big TenâÄôs best (No. 20 Wisconsin, Michigan State and No. 2 Ohio State).

âÄúIt was a good win for us,âÄù Smith said. âÄúOne that was definitely needed, and I thought we earned it tonight.âÄù