Gophers miss golden opportunity

Devoe Joseph missed a last-second shot that would have beaten No. 3 Purdue.

Marco LaNave

For most of the season, it had been the story of big games for the Gophers menâÄôs basketball team. But with newfound confidence from a two-game winning streak, Minnesota looked poised on Wednesday night to prevent it from spoiling the highest-stakes game yet this season. The Gophers had done all they could âÄî and caught some breaks âÄî to avoid another stinging late-game loss, until sophomore guard Devoe Joseph missed a baseline jumper on the final play of a 59-58 loss to No. 3 Purdue at Williams Arena. Senior forward Damian JohnsonâÄôs put-back attempt was too late to save the Gophers (16-11, 7-8 Big Ten), who wonâÄôt have a chance for a win as big as one Wednesday would have been until the Big Ten tournament in two weeks, if at all. âÄúClose doesnâÄôt do any good,âÄù head coach Tubby Smith said. âÄúBut we feel that we can play with anyone âĦ Just one or two plays make a difference in the game, and we just didnâÄôt make âĦ those clutch plays.âÄù Though the Gophers played a spirited second half and got a career-high 21 points from sophomore center Ralph Sampson III , they lost a nine-point lead in the final nine minutes. The Boilermakers (24-3, 12-3) played the final two-thirds of the game without All-Big Ten forward Robbie Hummel . Senior guard Keaton Grant led Purdue with eight second-half points, including the game-winning straight-on jumper beyond the free-throw line with 7.7 seconds remaining. The Boilermakers built a 12-2 lead in the first five minutes. Hummel had solved the GophersâÄô zone defense to score 11 points, including three 3-point field goals, before his right leg buckled on a drive with just more than seven minutes to play in the first half. PurdueâÄôs staff helped him off the court toward the locker room. He returned to the bench with crutches early in the second half, but the Boilermakers clearly missed him on the court. Purdue missed 10-straight 3-point shots after Hummel left and had a 10-minute field-goal drought that spanned a 19-0 Minnesota run. Sampson scored the last 10 points of that stretch, including his first career 3-pointer to close PurdueâÄôs lead to one early in the second half. âÄúI second-guessed that 3-pointer until Damian [Johnson] was in the post and yelled out, âÄòShoot it!âÄô âÄù Sampson said. âÄúI felt that it was a big turning point in the game, and thatâÄôs what really sparked our final push at the end.âÄù The Gophers lead grew to 44-35 with 9:13 remaining on a 3-point play by Johnson, who scored 12 points for Minnesota. But Purdue chipped away with a 22-12 run to take a 57-56 lead on guard EâÄôTwaun MooreâÄôs layup with 40.1 seconds remaining. Gophers senior guard Lawrence Westbrook scored only four points but got a floater to dance around the rim and in for a go-ahead basket with 25.2 seconds to play. Grant answered with the game-winner to hand Minnesota its second one-point loss to a top-10 opponent and eighth loss by seven points or fewer. âÄúWe see weâÄôve got the ingredients to beat [a top-10 team], weâÄôve just got to finish out,âÄù Johnson said.