Gophers smother Purdue 62-48

by Murali Balaji

The Gophers entered Thursday night’s game with one strike against their NCAA tournament chances, courtesy of their 54-42 humiliation against Purdue earlier this week.
One strike equated to one chip on their shoulders as Minnesota vindicated itself with a 62-48 dismantling of the Boilermakers at Williams Arena. This was a game that the Gophers — spurred by the emotions of senior night and a crowd watching the team’s final home game — simply couldn’t lose.
“If we didn’t win this one, I don’t think we had a chance to make it to the tournament,” freshman forward Dusty Rychart said.
Forward Quincy Lewis, who was held to a season-low 13 points on Tuesday at Purdue, made the Boilermakers pay with 27 points and 10 rebounds, both game highs. The 6-foot-7 senior played his final home game in front of his family, who made the trip from Little Rock, Ark.
“We got the victory, but it’s still a sad day for me,” Lewis said. “I really hate to leave this atmosphere and these fans who’ve really been loyal.”
But Lewis wasn’t the only senior making his mark on the game. Senior guard Kevin Clark, who had been limited recently by increasing seizures, ruptured the Purdue transition defense with his speed and scored 16 points.
“Kevin Clark got us scoring early, and that really set the tone for the game,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said.
After being strangled by Purdue offensively on Tuesday, Minnesota essentially returned the favor, suffocating the passing lanes and grabbing loose balls to start the fast break. Purdue’s leading scorers, guard Jaraan Cornell and forward Brian Cardinal, became mere afterthoughts in the waning stages of the game.
“That was the key — not letting the plays develop,” Haskins said. “I think we did an excellent job of not giving up easy baskets.”
The fact that the seniors — Clark, Lewis, forwards Miles Tarver and Jason Stanford — were emotionally charged and playing in front of family and friends provided Minnesota with extra incentives to come out strong. Purdue coach Gene Keady said he tried hard to prepare his team for the feverish Williams Arena environment.
“We knew we had a lot of things mentally against us, but we thought we could battle through it,” said Keady, who was exasperated by his team’s inability to shoot consistently. “I don’t know where we’re going right now.”
In the early stages of the game, the Boilermakers managed to overcome the emotional and psychological factors working against them, fighting their way to a 24-21 lead. However, the Clark-Lewis tandem led the Gophers on an 8-0 run, which helped Minnesota finish the half with a 31-29 advantage.
In the second half, the Gophers became voracious for the victory. Lewis, often manhandled in the baseline by two or three defenders, managed to hit everything in sight.
Lewis’s teammates then began to feed off his renewed energy, forcing the Boilermakers into errant passes and hasty shots. Minnesota began running away with their lead, building a solid 57-47 advantage with 3:51 to play.
“There was a sense of urgency, no doubt about it,” Haskins said. “I think our guys really wanted this win because of all the emotions we had tonight.”
And while Haskins evinced satisfaction at the continued improvement of his younger players, namely Rychart and guard Mitch Ohnstad, his counterpart was at a loss for words to explain his team’s lack of assertiveness.
“Somebody has got to step forth and run the offense,” Keady said. “I don’t know what we’re doing, and I’m the head coach.”
After the final buzzer sounded, Haskins allowed his players to run around the court and greet the fans as they exited the arena. But like Lewis, Haskins felt a twinge of sadness as his seniors waved to the crowd in appreciation.
“I dread senior day,” he admitted. “I just get too emotionally involved, and I think that hurts how we play. But tonight our guys worked through that and got a huge win for us.”

Greg McQuay 2-7 1-5 5, Cunningham 0-7 0-0 0, Cardinal 3-7 3-3 10, Eldridge 3-6 2-2 9, Cornell 6-12 0-0 16, Gary McQuay 1-2 0-0 2, Mayfield 0-0 0-0 0, Stephens 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 1-4 0-2 2, Smith 0-1 1-2 1, Allison 0-0 0-0 0
TOTALS: 17-47 (.362) FREE-THROW PERCENTAGE: 7-14 (.500) THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: 7-18 (.389) REBOUNDS: 36 (Cornell 7) ASSISTS: 11 (Eldridge 4) BLOCKS: 6 (Greg McQuay 3)

Lewis 10-19 5-6 27, Stanford 0-0 0-0 0, Tarver 1-3 0-0 2, Clark 7-12 0-0 16, Nathaniel 2-6 0-0 4, Ohnstad 0-0 0-0 0, Simmons 0-2 0-0 0, Rychart 1-3 0-0 2, Przybilla 3-6 3-5 9, Broxsie 0-0 0-0 0, Sanden 1-3 0-2 2
TOTALS: 25-54 (.463) FREE-THROW PERCENTAGE: 8-13 (.615) THREE POINT FIELD GOALS: 4-10 (.400) REBOUNDS: 35 (Lewis 10) ASSISTS: 13 (Nathaniel, Przybilla 3) BLOCKS: 5 (Broxsie 2)