Gophers keep a poker face and end the Big Ten race

by Todd Zolecki

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Clem Haskins wore his Big Ten championship T-shirt, tucked into his pants over his dress shirt and tie. The net he and his players had cut down minutes before rested around his neck — a priceless trophy worth more to him than any piece of jewelry he had ever seen.
This is title stuff, memories that won’t go away, no matter what happens the rest of the season.
He said he’d sleep with the net Wednesday night. Don’t think he didn’t. The No. 2 Gophers men’s basketball team just won its first conference title in 15 years. Oh yeah, the coach wants to point out it beat No. 24 Michigan, 55-54, on the road — a place it hasn’t won at since 1982.
Two smaller pieces of that net sat in his back pocket. Those he said will stay in his billfold until the day he dies.
“You know it’s always going to be special,” he said. “Regardless of what happens, old Clem now can die happy, saying he beat every team in the Big Ten on the road.”
His son Brent, and student coach Hosea Crittenden, heard Haskins’ comments and laughed. They knew how much it meant to him. For the first time in Haskins’ 11-year tenure, the title is his.
The Gophers celebrated after the game by donning their T-shirts and hats on the Crisler Arena court. Courtney James looked at assistant coach Bill Brown and said, “Give me something boy,” and they embraced. The team said a prayer at center court. The only thing anybody could complain about were the scissors, given to them by Gophers trainer Roger Schipper, which Eric Harris said were “terrible.”
As Gophers guard Bobby Jackson cut his piece of the net down, teammates chanted, “MVP, MVP,” which was their plug for Jackson, who they think should be Big Ten Player of the Year. This was fun. Smiles were wide, hugs plentiful and players danced.
“We were yelling MVP for everybody,” Miles Tarver said. “I even said it for myself. Defensive Player of the Year.”
Of course, none of it would happened if Harris hadn’t reached in and knocked the ball away from Michigan guard Louis Bullock with less than 10 seconds to go and the game tied as the Wolverines looked for a potential game-winning shot. But Harris got in good position and his instincts took over. He stuck his arm out and got the ball loose. As he fell down, he pushed to ball to Jackson who sprinted down the court for the game-winning lay-in. Jackson was fouled by Wolverines guard Brandun Hughes with 1.8 seconds left and sent to the line.
For the second straight game, the Gophers had free throws decide their fate. Last Saturday, center John Thomas made two to beat Illinois. This time it was Jackson’s turn.
Jackson made the first, but missed the second. After two timeouts Michigan tried to lob the ball over center court, but never got off a shot. James knocked the ball away.
It was over.
Jackson saved the day. He hit Minnesota’s first three field goals in the game and finished with a game-high 18 points — including a baseline jumper with 39 seconds left to tie the game at 54-54. Jackson was practically out of bounds on the shot, but he said he “just launched it and it went in.”
Players were extra pumped for this game. Comments were made after the Gophers beat the Wolverines at Williams Arena on Jan. 11. The talking continued before and after the game.
“If you’re going to talk you have to live up to it,” Jackson said. “They started it, and we finished it.”
At least Jackson did.
“This is what this team is all about,” he said. “We knew we had it at the end, and we were going to be victorious. I’m still trying to believe it. It feels great.”
Gophers forward Quincy Lewis said this is the best he has ever felt. No championship in high school can compare to this. He said they weren’t expected to win on the road. He doesn’t know if the reality of it all will ever sink in.
James didn’t know if he’d sleep Wednesday night. He was too wired. He said he might need a few days to get down from this high.
“We have a lot of heart,” James said. “I don’t think it could be any sweeter than this.”
He’s giving his piece of the net to his mother in Indianapolis.
“We’ll enjoy this,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back home.”

No. 2 Gophers 25 30 — 55
No. 24 Michigan 31 23 — 54

Gophers — James 1-2 0-2 2, Jacobson 3-8 2-3 9, J.Thomas 3-5 0-0 6, Jackson 7-13 3-4 18, Harris 4-9 3-4 12, Winter 0-1 0-0 0, Lewis 3-7 0-0 6, Tarver 0-0 0-0 0, C.Thomas 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 21-46 10-15 55.
Michigan — Taylor 1-8 2-3 4, Baston 7-11 1-6 15, Traylor 2-7 2-5 6, Bullock 4-11 2-2 12, Conlan 2-4 0-0 5, Ward 3-7 0-0 7, Hughes 2-7 0-2 5, Vignier 0-0 0-0 0, Oliver 0-0 0-0 0, Streets 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-55 7-18 54.
3-Point goals Minnesota 3-12 (Harris 1-3, Jackson 1-4, Jacobson 1-4, Lewis 0-1), Michigan 5-17 (Bullock 2-6, Conlan 1-2, Hughes 1-4, Ward 1-4, Taylor 0-1). Fouled out None. Rebounds Minnesota 30 (Jackson 9), Michigan 39 (Baston 13). Assists Minnesota 13 (Harris 7), Michigan 7 (Taylor 3). Total fouls Minnesota 20, Michigan 18. A 13,562.