Gophers fall in Big Ten final but snag at-large bid

As a No. 11 seed, Minnesota will play in Milwaukee on Friday.

Ohio States Evan Turner blocks a Lawrence Westbrook shot in the first half of the Gophers 61-90 Big Ten Tournament championship loss on Sunday.  Turners top-seeded Ohio team overwhelmed Minnesota by scoring 57 points in the second half.

Ohio State’s Evan Turner blocks a Lawrence Westbrook shot in the first half of the Gophers’ 61-90 Big Ten Tournament championship loss on Sunday. Turner’s top-seeded Ohio team overwhelmed Minnesota by scoring 57 points in the second half.

Marco LaNave

INDIANAPOLIS âÄî For the Gophers menâÄôs basketball team, the emotional roller coaster of Selection Sunday was simply a more abrupt version of the one they rode through this season. There was excited anticipation: The GophersâÄô goal of a Big Ten title seemed closer with a talented roster entering the season, and they were the first Minnesota team to play for a conference tournament title on Sunday. There were disappointments: Two recruits didnâÄôt play, a key starter was ruled ineligible, and the Gophers couldnâÄôt seem to finish off opponents great and small. In SundayâÄôs Big Ten championship, they stayed close before running out of gas in a 90-61 loss to No. 5 Ohio State. âÄúFatigue kind of set in, especially in the second half, towards the end of the game,âÄù sophomore center Ralph Sampson III said. âÄúI feel that it definitely was a factor.âÄù There was anxiety, both as the Gophers seemed to push themselves to the brink of NCAA tournament contention, and as they waited after SundayâÄôs game to see how the selection committee would evaluate their surge to win seven of their last 10 games. âÄúIt’s not in our hands,âÄù senior guard Lawrence Westbrook said before the tournament field was announced. âÄúI think that we had a good run here [at the Big Ten tournament], and we showed everybody that we’re a good team. We’ve just going to have to hope and pray that we get in.âÄù In the end, there was exhilaration, as MinnesotaâÄôs historic tournament run was rewarded with the announcement on national television that it would travel to Milwaukee âÄî the tournamentâÄôs nearest first-round site to Minneapolis âÄî and face Xavier (Atlantic-10) as a No. 11 seed on Friday. There was an appropriately wild celebration in a room at Conseco Fieldhouse. âÄúEveryone just started jumping; I think we might have damaged a couch in there,âÄù sophomore guard Devoe Joseph said shortly after the announcement. Next weekend will be the 16th NCAA tournament appearance in 17 years for Gophers coach Tubby Smith, but this year’s berth was among his hardest-earned. âÄúOur kids have worked extremely hard, especially over the last month, and I think theyâÄôve earned some respect in the way weâÄôve competed here in Indianapolis,âÄù Smith said. âÄúIt tells you a lot about their character; and the type of kids we have in our program are good people. TheyâÄôre tough; theyâÄôve grown up this year. I think thatâÄôs the most important thing.âÄù Big Ten championship: Ohio State 90, Minnesota 61 Minnesota hung with No. 5 Ohio State until midway through the second half of the Big Ten championship on Sunday afternoon, but the top-seeded Buckeyes pulled away for a 90-61 victory, stealing the GophersâÄô chance at an automatic bid to the Big Dance. Big Ten player of the year Evan Turner, already with two impressive performances before SundayâÄôs championship, scored a game-high 31 points and added 12 rebounds to lock up the most outstanding player of the tournament award. Gophers senior guard Lawrence Westbrook scored 17 points to lead the Gophers, and sophomore guard Devoe Joseph capped his own solid tournament with 14 points. In a tight first half, Ohio StateâÄôs lead grew no larger than seven points, but Joseph hit a 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer and close the Buckeyes lead to 33-30. Ohio State scored the first eight points of the second half, but the Gophers assembled a 10-1 run, capped by senior guard Devron BostickâÄôs 3-pointer, to close it to 42-40 with 13:29 remaining. But Turner hit a baseline jumper over Joseph to jump-start a 23-5 run for the Buckeyes. The GophersâÄô hot shooting the last three days cooled slightly, as they shot 42 percent, while Ohio State shot 57 percent from the field, including 12-of-22 on 3-point shots.