Minnesota defeats Michigan to advance

The Gophers will play Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals tonight.

by C.J. Spang

INDIANAPOLIS – Cinderella took her first step toward the glass slipper.

Despite making only six of 14 free throws in the final 1:08 of the game, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team held off Michigan for the 59-55 upset at Conseco Fieldhouse in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.

“Obviously it was somewhat disheartening that we couldn’t just put (the game) away right away,” said senior forward Zach Puchtel. “But Ö we knew we could make stops and so we weren’t that worried.”

It was a battle for the 10th-seeded Gophers to knock off the seventh-seeded Wolverines, who had beaten Minnesota by a combined 38 points in their two previous meetings this season.

Before the game, the team had talked about withstanding Michigan’s opening charge, something it was unable to do in the previous meetings.

This game was no different, as the Gophers took just one shot and turned the ball over four times in the opening three minutes to find themselves in an early 7-0 hole.

Minnesota turned the ball over 12 times in the first half, and by the team’s own admission, it wasn’t because of the Wolverines’ defense.

“Careless, absolutely careless,” Puchtel said. “We were beating ourselves in the first half Ö It wouldn’t have been them if we would have lost; it would have been us.”

Even with the turnovers, the Gophers found themselves down just four points at the break, 27-23.

“Overall we had a lot of guys encouraged by (being down four points),” senior guard Adam Boone said. “Because when we hold teams to 27 (in the first half) Ö we can win games.”

Minnesota showed no sign of another slow start in the second half, opening with a 12-4 run to take the lead 35-31, a lead it would not relinquish.

Thanks to a 3:33 scoring drought by Michigan, the Gophers were able to extend their lead to 10 points, 53-43, with 4:03 remaining, on what would be their final field goal of the game.

The Wolverines made it close, trailing by four points with 28.1 seconds to play when junior wing Lester Abram drove through the line, blasting through Puchtel and hitting the floater.

When the referee whistled a foul, Michigan’s bench was starting to celebrate the possible three-point play, but the ref came running out from underneath the basketball signaling on offensive foul and erasing the basket, as well as the Wolverines’ comeback attempt.

“I don’t think we played particularly great offensively,” coach Dan Monson said. “But it was one of our better defensive efforts of the year – no question.”

Besides taking the charge at the end of the game, Puchtel was big on the glass, pulling down a career-high 15 rebounds.

“As far the rebounds go, that’s what I was focused on today,” Puchtel said. “I wasn’t caring about scoring. I know we have other guys to do all that, so I was just crashing the glass as hard as I could and had a pretty good day with it.”

Senior guard Maurice Hargrow scored a team-high 15 points, senior guard Vincent Grier added 11 points and sophomore forward Dan Coleman dropped in 10 points off the bench.

“You gotta come to a tournament and other players have to be able to help your guys that have been there all year,” Monson said. “(Grier and Puchtel) along with Dan (Coleman), I thought, really had big games for us.”