Haskins finally wins at Purdue

Todd Zolecki

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Clem Haskins finally conquered the unconquerable. He beat Purdue at Mackay Arena.
He had never won at Mackay in 11 years at Minnesota. But Wednesday night’s 70-67 victory for the Gophers men’s basketball team did much more than exercise a demon from the coach’s past — it set the Gophers up for a clear run at their first Big Ten championship since 1982. Minnesota now holds a three-game lead over Purdue and Iowa with seven games remaining in the season.
Haskins and his players insist the race isn’t over yet. Purdue coach Gene Keady agreed. But he cautioned the title is the Gophers’ to lose.
“It depends on their attitude,” he said. “If they stay hungry, no one can beat them.”
Beating Purdue at Williams Arena, which the Gophers did 91-68 on Jan. 25, adds some truth to Keady’s statement. Since the conference season started over a month ago, Haskins has preached to his players that the conference title goes through Purdue. He’s right.
The Boilermakers are three-time defending Big Ten champions. If No. 3 Minnesota expects to fit itself for rings at the end of the season, it had to win at Mackay — a place of endless frustration for Haskins.
When it was all over, and moments after Purdue failed to make a 3-pointer in the game’s final seconds to send it into overtime, it appeared another team was ready to be crowned.
“It was special,” Haskins said of the win. “The kids dedicated this game to me, so I’m very, very pleased. When you have a guy like Gene Keady, it’s difficult to win. But we feel real good about it.”
A pregame dedication for Haskins? What a way to enter a game full of emotion, and better yet with title implications on the line.
Not exactly. Gopher’s center John Thomas didn’t stand up in the middle of the locker room before the game and deliver a fiery speech to his teammates, demanding a win for Haskins.
“It was after the game (when we dedicated it),” Gopher’s guard Bobby Jackson said.
Perhaps it wasn’t the most courageous dedication ever. No, “win one for Haskins” speech this time, but it was important for the players to make it.
At times it seemed Purdue was ready to repeat its decade of success over Minnesota. In the games’ closing minutes, the Gophers lead was reduced to an unstable two points. The Boilermakers, however, couldn’t get closer. Jackson said the Gophers refused to quit.
With one minute left, Thomas made a big basket, off of Brett Farve- esque pass from point guard Eric Harris, putting the Gophers ahead 69-65.
Purdue guard Chad Austin then made a pair of free throws to bring it back within a basket with 34.7 seconds left.
That’s when the seemingly impossible occurred. Jackson and Harris, the Gophers’ best free throw shooters, made only one-of-four in the final seconds to give the Boilermakers’ overtime attempt possible.
But this time there was no Mackay magic. Keady said the last play was executed poorly as the Boilermakers got off two shots, but none went in.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy”, Jackson said. “It was very emotional for (Haskins) because he had never won here before. We just wanted to come in and play our hearts out. If we went out and played hard, we knew we would have a chance in the game.”
Some signs say it could be Minnesota’s year. The last time the Gophers won at Mackay, they won the Big Ten title. And how many times does Courtney James, and Thomas make 7-of-10 free throws when Jackson and Harris go 2-for-6? Odds of that happening are slim, James said.
The Gophers don’t want to say destiny is on their side. They did, however, win without the presence of Sam Jacobson and Jackson for much of the second half. The two finished with a team high 13-points, but Thomas and James made the baskets at the end.
This is the program’s best start ever at 21-2, surpassing the 1972-73 and 1976-77 teams.

GAME SUMMARY
##3 Gophers 38 32 — 70
Purdue 28 39 — 67

Gophers — James 2-5 5-6 9, Jacobson 6-11 0-2 13, J.Thomas 5-7 2-4 12, Jackson 6-18 1-2 13, Harris 3-6 1-4 7, Tarver 0-0 0-0 0, Winter 0-1 0-0 0, Lewis 4-6 2-2 10, C.Thomas 2-2 0-0 6. Totals 28-56 11-20 70.
Purdue — Robinson 1-6 3-3 5, Cardinal 2-7 4-7 8, Miller 6-9 3-4 15, Austin 8-16 4-4 23, Eldridge 2-5 0-2 5, Cornell 2-7 2-2 7, McQuay 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 23-53 16-22 67.
3-Point goals — Minnesota 3-8 (C.Thomas 2-2, Jacobson 1-2, Harris 0-1, Lewis 0-1, Jackson 0-2), Purdue 5-26 (Austin 3-9, Eldridge 1-3, Cornell 1-6, Robinson 0-1, McQuay 0-1, Cardinal 0-3, Robinson 0-3). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Minnesota 32 (James 9), Purdue 29 (Miller 9). Assists — Minnesota 16 (Harris 6), Purdue 15 (Eldridge 5). Total fouls — Minnesota 22, Purdue 16. A — 14,123.