Gopher men fall short of Final Four

Daniel Kelly

NEW ORLEANS — It took a Gopher basketball team 93 years to reach the fourth round of the NCAA tournament. Ninety-three seasons to get farther than all but four of the nation’s 293 Division I basketball programs.
But it took only five chaotic seconds on the Superdome court Sunday afternoon to bring Minnesota’s run at its first national title to a screeching halt.
In those five seconds, Gopher forward Richard Coffey grabbed a rebound and passed the ball to junior guard Mario Green, who forwarded it to Kevin Lynch.
Lynch, a junior guard, lobbed the sixth-seeded Minnesota’s chances of a Final Four appearance a foot past the hoop, giving fourth-seeded Georgia Tech a 93-91 victory in the NCAA Southeast Region final and an invitation to Denver.
“I took it,” Lynch said. “It was an off-balance shot. It was hard to get a real square shot up, a strong shot. I just tried to do the best I could; it just didn’t go in. It didn’t feel great when I took it.”
Seconds earlier Yellow Jacket freshman guard Kenny Anderson missed the front end of a one-and-one, allowing the Gophers to gain control and attempt the shot.
“As Lynch was driving down the sideline,” Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins said, “I thought (Tech center Johnny) McNeil did a super job.
“We talked about, `Don’t freeze — contest.’ McNeil contested,” Cremins said.
Before the miss, Lunch was perfect from outside the three-point line, nailing both of his attempts. But he made only one two-pointer in five attempts, and connected on four of eight free throws.
Tech forward Dennis Scott had no such problems shooting. He led the Yellow Jackets with 40 points, burying seven three-pointers and nine free throws.
Scott is one member of what his teammates call “Lethal Weapon 3.” Freshman point guard Anderson and senior guard Brian Oliver complete the trio of big scorers. Anderson contributed 30 points against the Gophers and Oliver scored 19. The eight other Yellow Jacket players who saw action combined for four points.
“Believe it or not, it’s not that unusual to see this stat,” Cremins said. “I’ll bet in the games that we have played that we have had this several times.”
Minnesota matched Georgia Tech’s hot shooting with inside baskets during the first half, leading 49-47 at intermission. Gopher senior center Jim Shikenjanski scored 13 of his 19 points in the first half, most coming on short baskets. During the game’s final 10 minutes, however, the Gophers resorted to outside shooting.
“We didn’t show patience on our end of the court,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said. “And they (Georgia Tech) made some adjustments.”
Despite strong inside play much of the game, the Gophers only had 11 free-throw attempts and made only five. The Yellow Jackets, on the other hand, went to the stripe 35 times, scoring 27 points.
“It’s hard enough to try to defend them,” Gopher defensive specialist Connell Lewis said. “When you can’t check them like they check you, then you can’t do anything.
“All night, the ref was hollering at us to keep our hands off,” he continued, “and yet they’re putting their hands on us…. You have to figure, how can you shoot 35 free throws if you’re shooting jump shots and we’re pounding the ball inside and we’re shooting layups. It doesn’t balance out.”
Officials Gerald Donaghy and Samuel Croft were from the Atlantic Coast Conference, of which Georgia Tech is a member. The other official, David Libby, presented Burton with the first and last technical foul of his college career when the Gopher forward scolded the official for not calling a foul with 11:25 remaining. Scott apparently fouled Burton after a rebound.
“I said, `Call the fouls,'” said Burton, who led Minnesota with 35 points. “I was hacked five or six times before that. It was obvious. I think he was just embarrassed because he missed the call and the whole arena saw him miss the call.”
Burton scored only five points after the technical foul and missed eight shots, including one that touched only air after leaving his hands.
Minnesota lost control of the game, as well as the lead, after the technical. Georgia Tech led by five with 20 seconds remaining, but Burton made one final three-pointer to put the Gophers within reach of the victory. A victory they couldn’t grab.
“I know we’re a better team than Georgia Tech,” Coffey said. “I just think that they got a lot of calls at the crucial moments; on the other hand we didn’t, for whatever reason.”
For whatever reason, the Yellow Jackets (28-6) will play Nevada-Las Vegas Saturday afternoon in Denver and the Gophers (23-9) will be remembering the best season in the history of the University.