Gophers thrash No. 6 Purdue to reach Big Ten championship

Minnesota seeks its first Big Ten tournament title on Sunday against No. 5 Ohio State.

Minnesota guard Devron Bostick reacts after finishing a dunk in the second half of Minnesota's 69-42 rout of Purdue on Saturday. Minnesota will play Ohio State for the Big Ten title on Sunday.

Minnesota guard Devron Bostick reacts after finishing a dunk in the second half of Minnesota’s 69-42 rout of Purdue on Saturday. Minnesota will play Ohio State for the Big Ten title on Sunday.

Marco LaNave

INDIANAPOLIS âÄî Anyone predicting this yearâÄôs Minnesota menâÄôs basketball team would be the programâÄôs first to advance to a Big Ten championship would have been mocked less than four weeks ago. That scenario seemed just as far-fetched after an embarrassing 28-point loss at Michigan on March 2. Yet, the improbability of it all was obliterated by the GophersâÄô emphatic 69-42 victory over No. 6 Purdue in the Big Ten semifinals at Conseco Fieldhouse on Saturday. âÄúYou look back at all the hard work we’ve done over the course of preseason and practiceâĦand how it’s all paid off to this moment,âÄù said sophomore center Ralph Sampson III, who scored a team-leading 13 points to help Minnesota advance to face top-seeded Ohio State for the Big TenâÄôs automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in SundayâÄôs title game. âÄúWe’re very motivated for this game, and we feel that we’ve come a long way and we have a lot more to go,âÄù said Sampson, who added five rebounds, three assists and two blocks. The Gophers (21-12) stunned the Boilermakers and their fans âÄî who far outnumbered MinnesotaâÄôs supporters âÄî by building a lead as large as 28 points before halftime and maintaining at least an 18-point margin after the first 14 minutes of the game. Purdue missed 18 of its first 20 shots and had an 11:25 scoring drought in the first half. Despite a hook shot by Boilermakers center JaJuan Johnson to beat the halftime buzzer, Purdue scored its fewest points in a half since 1950 and trailed 37-11. âÄúWe simply didn’t have anything in our tank today, and obviously Minnesota did,âÄù Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said. âÄúThe game of basketball will humble you, and today we were obviously humbled.âÄù The Gophers dominated the second-seeded Boilermakers (27-5) across the board, out-shooting them 48 percent to 28 percent and out-rebounding them 50-26. The 50 rebounds was one shy of the Big Ten tournament record. âÄúThe game [Friday] against Michigan State got us really prepared for a tough Purdue team,âÄù said sophomore center Colton Iverson, who had five first-half rebounds and scored 11 points to reach double figures for a career-best third-straight game. âÄúLast night [was] a very physical game, and we just came tonight ready to play with the same intensity as we would any other game.âÄù Though theyâÄôll try to approach SundayâÄôs title game like any other, it will be an historic one for the Minnesota program, which hasnâÄôt been to the Big Ten championship since the tournament began in 1998. âÄúThe game today and the feeling I have right now is the greatest IâÄôve ever had as a Gopher,âÄù said senior forward Damian Johnson, who was a member of the 2006-07 Minnesota team that lost a school-record 22 games. âÄúI was part of the team that was the worst team in Minnesota history, so thatâÄôs a big transition. IâÄôm just so happy.âÄù In a season in which two highly-anticipated recruits didnâÄôt play and their starting point guard was ruled ineligible after the first six games of the conference schedule, the Gophers still have a chance to accomplish their preseason goal of a Big Ten championship. âÄúIt’s big, especially coming from where we did in the beginning of the year,âÄù said senior guard Lawrence Westbrook, the only remaining player other than Johnson who played during the 9-22 season three years ago. âÄúNobody expected us to be here, so it just shows that we persevered.âÄù The two biggest stories of the Big Ten tournament âÄî the GophersâÄô surge and conference player of the year Evan TurnerâÄôs performances âÄî will finally meet at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, just hours before the announcement of the 65-team NCAA tournament field. Turner has averaged 24.5 points in two tournament games and scored 19 points in each of two regular-season games against Minnesota. In the last three games, though, the Gophers have beaten teams led by the Big TenâÄôs top players, including PurdueâÄôs All-Big Ten first-team guard EâÄôTwaun Moore and second-team center JaJuan Johnson. Moore entered with a 16.8-point average in four career games against Minnesota, but he missed his first eight shots and finished with two points on 1-of-14 shooting. Johnson had 17 points but just four rebounds (his season average was 7.2 entering Saturday). So no one can blame the Gophers for thinking theyâÄôve got a proven formula as they face Turner and the Buckeyes. âÄúItâÄôs just another game in the Big Ten, all these teams in the Big Ten have a bunch of great players,âÄù said sophomore point guard Devoe Joseph, who has scored at least 10 points in each game of the tournament. âÄúObviously we have to do a lot to slow [Turner] down, so weâÄôre just going to work hard and keep working on our [defensive] principles that coach has taught us.âÄù Gophers coach Tubby Smith, seeking his 16th NCAA tournament appearance in 17 years, gave the credit to his players after SaturdayâÄôs win but said he will continue to look beyond the win-loss record when evaluating SundayâÄôs game. âÄúWe’re going to give our best effort, and we do that and we’ll be fine,âÄù Smith said. âÄúAs long as we do that, we can hold our heads up high, and we can look in the mirror and say we did our best, and that’s all we can do.âÄù SaturdayâÄôs other semifinal: No. 1 Ohio State 88, No. 5 Illinois 81 (2 OT) Evan Turner scored 11 of his game-high 31 points after regulation to help No. 5 Ohio State survive the first-ever double-overtime game in the 13-year history of the Big Ten tournament. Illinois, seeking another win to help its NCAA tournament résumé, couldnâÄôt convert its possessions at the end of regulation and the first overtime into game-winning baskets. The Illini lost an 11-point second-half lead when Ohio State (26-7) went on a 20-0 run in a five-minute stretch. But they rallied to twice take a two-point lead in the final 1:18 of regulation. They also lost a four-point lead in the final 1:27 of the first overtime. Turner, who had 10 rebounds, six assists and 10 of his teamâÄôs 18 turnovers, fouled out with one minute remaining and the Buckeyes leading 84-80. Guard David Lighty made two layups to seal the game. Buckeyes guard William Buford had 22 points and 10 rebounds. All-Big Ten guard Demetri McCamey scored 22 points, and forward Mike Davis added 13 points and 18 rebounds for the Illini (19-14).