With 10.5 seconds left in Minnesota’s men’s basketball game against Georgia on Saturday and the game tied at 69, Rick Rickert threw the ball in to Kevin Burleson – option one. Rickert set a screen for Burleson, who had a look at the basket.
“At first I thought, ‘I’m going to shoot this,’ ” Burleson said.
But when the defense switched over to him, Burleson could not find Rickert – option two – inside, so he made a mid-air decision to give the ball to Michael Bauer at the top of the key.
“Mike is known for hitting big shots in practice and he’s long and tall and can get it off on anybody,” Burleson said. “So I gave it to him.”
With two seconds left, Bauer – option three – created space with his right shoulder, separated from defender Chris Daniels, faded away and launched a three-point attempt before the buzzer.
Then he waited.
The ball hit the front of the rim, then the backboard, then the front of the rim again, where it sat taunting the 13,417 at Williams Arena.
Then it fell through. Pandemonium.
“It didn’t seem real,” Bauer said. “It seemed like time was taking forever, ticking away, ticking away. It seemed like it was up there for at least 30 seconds and then it just fell through.”
The shot gave the 24th-ranked Gophers a 72-69 victory over the 17th-ranked Bulldogs, but more importantly, a close, tough win Minnesota earned with a 40-minute effort.
“It kind of takes that monkey off our back,” sophomore Maurice Hargrow said. “It proved to everyone in the nation who watched this game that Minnesota can win close games.”
Hargrow led a balanced scoring effort for the Gophers (2-0) with 15 points and also led the team in rebounds with eight.
Overall, five players finished in double figures, while Jerry Holman finished just one point shy.
After playing a poor second half in its first regular season game against UNC Asheville, Minnesota kept up its intensity at both ends of the floor in the second half.
Minnesota dictated the pace for most of the way and only trailed once in the contest – a 59-58 deficit with 5:32 left in the second half.
“We were the aggressors,” Hargrow said. “We weren’t waiting on anyone to bring it to us.”
The Gophers attempted to exploit Georgia’s lack of height inside, but a combination of the Bulldogs (1-3) sagging zone defense and Minnesota’s struggles inside forced the Gophers to strike from the outside.
Burleson shot 4-of-7 from beyond the arc, and overall Minnesota was 9-of-19 from the three-point line.
The Gophers were outscored in the paint 26-22.
“I thought we searched the inside and we struggled in there,” coach Dan Monson said. “But at least we searched it before we jacked outside shots.”
Minnesota’s final three field goals were from three-point land, with Burleson hitting two of his four in the final three and a half minutes.
But the biggest one came from Bauer, who said he last hit a game-winning shot in the seventh grade.
Bauer did not even shoot in practice last week until Friday after suffering a sprained shoulder in Tuesday’s practice.
“Today it felt very good, and when the adrenaline was pumping it wasn’t too bad,” Bauer said. “Until all the fans mobbed us at the end and they were all trying to pat me on the shoulder and that kind of hurt a little bit.
“But it was well worth it.”