Furious comeback, then a botched final play; Gophers fall by three to Indiana

Minnesota trailed by 16 with 9:44 to play but had a chance to force overtime.

Josh Katzenstein

Blake Hoffarber made a name for himself in the college ranks when, as a freshman, he hit an unbelievable last-second shot to beat Indiana in the Big Ten tournament in 2008.

The GophersâÄô senior guard had another opportunity to be a late-game hero against the Hoosiers on Wednesday night, but his last-second 3-pointer, which would have sent the game into overtime, bounced off the front of the rim and finalized 18th-ranked MinnesotaâÄôs 60-57 loss to Indiana at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.

Playing their first game without leading scorer Christian Watford (broken hand), the Hoosiers (12-11, 3-7 Big Ten) never trailed and held a 50-34 lead with just 9:34 remaining, but the Gophers made a late charge. Freshman Austin Hollins, who scored all of his career-high 13 points in the second half, had a chance to tie the game at 55, but he missed the second of two free throws after cutting the deficit to one with 3:05 left. The Gophers made just 11-of-22 free throws in the game.

Indiana guard Verdell Jones, who scored 12 points off the bench, hit a 3-pointer with 2:05 remaining to give the Hoosiers a 60-54 lead, and Minnesota managed only three field-goal attempts in the final two minutes. Chip Armelin cut the deficit to three with a jumper with 41.5 seconds left, but HoffarberâÄôs off-balance shot marked the end of an uninspired effort.

The Gophers (16-6, 5-5) fought back behind better ball security in the second half, committing only two turnovers. They coughed it up eight times âÄî and shot 26.9 percent from the field âÄî in the first half and trailed 33-21 at the break.

“If you’re not going to rebound, you’re not going to fight back, you’re not going to box out, anybody is going to beat you,âÄù Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said. âÄúYou’ve got to set the tone, and we weren’t doing any of that. We weren’t doing any of the little things. They were out working us and out hustling us.”

Minnesota, which fell at No. 12 Purdue on Saturday, has now lost consecutive games for the second time this season and has lost five of its last six games in Bloomington.

Hoffarber led the Gophers with 15 points, but he shot just 4-for-12 from the field and had four turnovers playing the point guard position in place of the injured Al Nolen. Junior forward Ralph Sampson scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds for a Minnesota team that failed to use size to its advantage. Both teams finished with 22 points in the paint.

Now the Gophers must try to halt a two-game losing streak against top-ranked Ohio State.

The Buckeyes (22-0, 9-0) enter ThursdayâÄôs game against Michigan as the Big TenâÄôs best offensive team (scoring 78.4 points per game) and second-best defensive team (allowing 57.5 points per game).

Minnesota nearly rallied from an 18-point deficit before falling 67-64 last time they met Ohio State on Jan. 9. The Gophers had an opportunity to tie the game in the final seconds, but HollinsâÄô 3-point shot fell short.

As with the first matchup, SundayâÄôs game could turn into a battle between Mbakwe and Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger, the Big TenâÄôs top two rebounders. Mbakwe slightly outplayed Sullinger last time as he added four blocks to his 16 points and 12 rebounds. Sullinger finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds in the win.