Gophers earn crucial victory on senior night

Minnesota upset No. 11 Purdue 73-69 on Tuesday.

Junior Amir Coffey lays the ball in on Tuesday, March 5 at Williams Arena.

Tony Saunders

Junior Amir Coffey lays the ball in on Tuesday, March 5 at Williams Arena.

Nick Jungheim

Following a 68-64 loss to Rutgers on Feb. 24, it seemed Minnesota needed to win two of its final three regular season games to make the NCAA tournament. 

Two games later, that’s exactly what the Gophers have done.

Minnesota (19-11, 9-10 Big Ten) secured a signature victory over No. 11 Purdue (22-8, 15-4 Big Ten) on senior night. When the final buzzer sounded, the score was 73-69 Gophers, and the fans proceeded to storm the court.

“[I’m] really proud of our team for beating a terrific team,” said head coach Richard Pitino. “Thankful for our fans to make that a special night, that’s what it’s all about. Our seniors can tell their families about that night. Recruits and fans they see that, that’s what being a part of a great program is.”

Trailing 14-11 early, Minnesota held Purdue scoreless for 4:23 and scored eight consecutive points to take the lead. Overall, the Gophers shot 50 percent from the field in the first half while limiting the Boilermakers to just over 30 percent shooting, including 4-14 from beyond the arc.

Reigning Big Ten player of the week Amir Coffey began the game playing with the same aggressiveness he demonstrated in a 31-point performance at Northwestern last Thursday. He connected on 5-6 field goals in the first half, including both of his 3-point attempts. 

“That’s the most aggressive I’ve probably seen Amir,” said senior Jordan Murphy. “That’s when he’s at his best: when he’s aggressive, not being passive, and just trying to score and get down in the lane.”

In the first half of his final game at Williams Arena, Murphy also scored in double figures. Murphy imposed his will in the paint, scoring 13 before halftime. Combined, Murphy and Coffey scored as many points as Purdue in the first half, and the Gophers held a 37-27 advantage at the intermission.

With 14:23 remaining, Coffey drained his third 3-pointer of the night to give Minnesota a 50-38 lead. From there, the game began to resemble the teams’ match-up on Feb. 3, when the Gophers blew a 13-point lead in West Lafayette, Indiana. 

Purdue woke up from behind the arc and pulled down seven offensive rebounds during a 16-4 run that tied the game. However, unlike the meeting a month ago, Minnesota fought back and regained momentum. Pitino said the last meeting wasn’t on his mind.

“I don’t really reminisce much during the game,” Pitino said. “I try to stay in the moment.”

After taking the lead back with free throws, freshman Gabe Kalscheur scored his first points of the night and the Gophers’ first field goal in 6:09 to give Minnesota a 60-54 lead.

Purdue tightened the score once again, but while up by two points in the closing seconds, Coffey hit two free throws to tie a career-high 32 points and ice the game for Minnesota.

Jordan Murphy didn’t score in the second half but added nine more rebounds to put a fitting end to his time at Williams Arena with his 65th career double-double (13 points, 14 rebounds).  

Perhaps the most important contribution from a senior came from Matz Stockman. Filling in for redshirt sophomore Eric Curry, who the team announced would miss the rest of the season with a foot injury, Stockman totaled nine points, six rebounds and seven blocks.  

“As soon as he found out Eric was out for the season [Pitino] told me [my role would increase],” Stockman said.  “I kind of expected it, because it seemed serious when I saw [Curry] getting injured in practice.”

Minnesota will conclude the regular season on Friday against Maryland, which defeated the Gophers 82-67 on Jan. 8.