Comeback

Mark Heller

The signs pointed to an upset.
But for Minnesota forward John-Blair Bickerstaff, there was no warning.
In both a memorable and forgettable night, 14,227 packed Williams Arena, hoping the Gophers could at least put up a fight against Bobby Knight and 10th-ranked Indiana. There was reason for hope: Indiana was 3-5 at Williams Arena entering the game over the last eight years, and hadn’t won since 1996.
While Minnesota was stung by the loss of team spark plug Bickerstaff in the first half, a red-hot Joel Przybilla fired up the rest of his teammates for a 77-75 comeback win.
After coming back not once, but twice from the brink of elimination, Terrance Simmons fed Przybilla for the winning layup with 3.9 seconds remaining.
“We had shown signs of playing well in spurts, but this was by far our most sustained effort,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “We fixed some things when we were down 13 in the first half, and in the second half we were down by six, but I’m really proud of how we kept our composure. We stayed with it and then made a couple of plays at the end.”
After a truly memorable win, this young Gophers team (12-9, 4-7 Big Ten) had an unexpected reason to win the game.
With 5:57 remaining in the first half, Bickerstaff — the emotional spark of the Gophers — was running on a fast break when he was fouled hard on a layup. He crashed onto the ground behind the basket, grabbing his right knee in obvious pain. He remained on the ground for about 10 minutes before being taken away on a stretcher.
After the game, Monson announced that Bickerstaff had a fractured patella and he will probably have surgery.
His season is over.
“We were a little down (while Bickerstaff was on the floor),” said freshman guard Shane Schilling, who put in a career-high 13 points, including three treys. “Then we saw them pull out the stretcher. He keeps us going out there, and we wanted to win this game for him.”
With a backdrop of three students near the floor of the student section decked out in hunting clothes and a sign saying “Please Bobby Don’t Shoot,” A.J. Guyton (27 points) led the Hoosiers (17-4, 7-3) to a 27-14 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half.
Minnesota stormed back, going on a 20-8 run to finish the first half, getting within 35-34 on a Kyle Sanden layup at the buzzer.
For most of the second half, both teams exchanged baskets but two free throws by Indiana center Kirk Hastan gave the Hoosiers a 75-70 lead with one minute left in the game.
Then Przybilla, who thoroughly dominated the entire game with a career-high 33 points (16-for-19 from the field) and 14 rebounds, went to work.
A Kevin Burleson three-pointer made it 75-73. Then Przybilla blocked an Indiana shot and put back a Schilling miss to tie the game. Again Minnesota held Indiana. Simmons grabbed the rebound.
Instead of taking the Gophers’ final timeout, Simmons raced downcourt, got into the lane, drew two Hoosiers and flipped it to Przybilla, who laid it in for a 77-75 lead.
Guyton air-balled an off-balance final shot.
“This shows we can compete with anybody in the country,” Przybilla said. “We proved we’re not the team a lot of people thought we were going to be. It was a great moment.”
“With 11 minutes left in the first half I thought we played really well, then they really took it away from us right there,” Knight said. “For the rest of the half Minnesota really outplayed us.”
“Minnesota moved the game to the point where they had a chance to break it open and didn’t. Then we came back. Now we have the game at a point where we could win it and didn’t.
“It’s a really nice win for them and a really tough loss for us.”
After the Gophers left the floor and headed to their locker room, one of the players yelled, “That was long overdue.”
All signs point to yes.

Mark Heller covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]