Third time’s a charm: Gophers win

Adam Fink

INDIANAPOLIS – All season, Minnesota’s men’s basketball coach Dan Monson has witnessed his team not make the most of their opportunities.

From a lack of effort to blowing big leads to missing shots, the Gophers have found a variety of ways to lose.

Before the tip-off of Minnesota’s 63-52 win against Purdue in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday afternoon, Monson told his players to quit waiting for a break.

“I told the guys you have to make it your day,” Monson said. “They had the mindset to make it happen.”

Well, barely.

The Gophers scored 19 first-half points, a season low, yet didn’t trail at halftime at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Kris Humphries – the Big Ten’s leading scorer and rebounder – missed more than five times as many shots as he made, yet helped the Gophers pull away in the final 10 minutes.

And Minnesota, which shot only 28.8 percent from the field in the game, made all eight of its free throws in the final 1:02 to secure the victory.

Although many ingredients were in place for another Gophers loss – poor shooting, scoring droughts and bad defense – Minnesota (12-17) beat Purdue (17-13) for the first time in three tries this season.

Minnesota plays second-seeded Wisconsin tonight in the second round of the tournament. The Badgers beat the Gophers 80-66 on Feb. 4.

“We played the way we had to play against Purdue,” Monson said. “We frustrated them on defense and did a good job executing defensively.”

Monson said he felt the game was won on the defensive again. Purdue, known for its physical defensive play, had problems against the Gophers’ aggressive man-to-man defense.

Minnesota’s game plan was to alternate between zone and man-to-man defense, but that changed quickly after Monson saw the Gophers giving the Boilermakers matchup problems.

Stan Gaines and Brent Lawson provided the defensive spark, helping to force seven second-half Purdue turnovers.

In addition, Minnesota was strong on the boards, out-rebounding Purdue – and its three post players taller than 6 feet 8 inches – by one carom.

Purdue also shot only 38.6 percent for the game.

While that statistic is solid, it makes the Gophers’ shooting percentage embarrassing.

Humphries shot 4-for-21 and at one point was 1-for-14. The Boilermakers’ collapsing defense – led by post players Brett Buscher and Ivan Kartelo – kept Humphries at bay.

“I just had to keep my composure, and when I wasn’t able to get to the basket in the first half, I worked to get rebounds and do other things on the court,” Humphries said.

The Big Ten freshman of the year finished with 20 points. The 11 free throws he made are one short of a Big Ten Tournament record. He added 15 rebounds, the third highest total at the tournament.

The game turned in the second half, largely due to Michael Bauer. Bauer had only two points at halftime but finished with 16.

“(Lately) my legs have felt a lot stronger late in the game,” Bauer said.

Bauer helped keep the Gophers in the game early in the second half when Purdue built a 24-19 lead. Minnesota responded with a 9-0 run and never trailed again.

The senior made four three-pointers, the biggest coming with 3:35 remaining and Minnesota leading by five.

“You can’t leave him open,” Purdue coach Gene Keady said. “He’s been playing better lately and it made Bauer much more confident.”