Gophers squeak out a tough road win at Indiana

It was closer than a top-20 team would want to be with a team that has lost eight straight, but the Gophers stopped their two-game skid against Indiana on Sunday. Minnesota (17-3, 5-3 Big Ten), favored to win by nine, couldn’t shake the Hoosiers and needed a Paul Carter free throw with two seconds left to seal the road win, 67-63. âÄúIt was huge,âÄù coach Tubby Smith said. âÄúWe want to stay on pace and keep our eye on the goal, and to compete in the Big Ten and stay in the hunt, you have to find ways to win.âÄù Junior forward Damian Johnson led the No. 20 Gophers with a career-high 18 points, along with six rebounds and two blocks. Ralph Sampson III had 13 points and a career-high six blocks and junior Lawrence Westbrook had 12. The Gophers trailed for most of the first half by as many as eight. Though they led the entire second half, it was never by more than six, and Indiana cut the lead to one point five different times, including a 64-63 score with less than 30 seconds to go. Sophomore guard Al Nolen Jr. made a pair of free throws to give Minnesota a three-point lead, giving Indiana the ball with 29 seconds left. After a timeout, the Hoosiers leading scorer Devan Dumes rimmed out a three-pointer with three seconds left, which Carter grabbed. All that against an Indiana team generally considered the weakest in the Big Ten, and which has seen a storied program hurt by scandal. First-year coach Tom Crean is taking over for Kelvin Sampson, who was bought out of his contract after the NCAA found him guilty of recruiting violations. Indiana has only nine scholarship players. âÄúThis was the first time probably all year where I looked at this team and it was the culmination of the whole week of them really building up not only a preparation to win, not only a desire to win, but the belief they would win,âÄù Crean said. âÄúThis is one of the tougher ones to swallow.âÄù It was Indiana’s fifth straight home loss, the longest losing streak in the 37-year history of Bloomington’s Assembly Hall. Still, a road win is a road win for the Gophers, who have played poorly away from Williams Arena all season. They’ve trailed significantly in all of their road wins âÄî including a one-point, nonconference win against Colorado State âÄî and were upset on the road by unranked Northwestern on Jan. 18. Following Thursday’s loss to Purdue at home, coach Tubby Smith said one of his team’s biggest weaknesses was getting the ball inside. The Gophers did a decidedly better job of it Sunday, with Sampson as the key force inside. âÄúWe did make a conscious effort to get the ball to him,âÄù Smith said. âÄúI thought the guy showed a lot of confidence. I trusted that when we threw the ball to him, he could finish and not only that, he finished on offensive rebounds and put-backs.âÄù The true freshman took nine shots in the game, second only to Johnson’s 16, and was more involved in the offense than any center had been over the past two games. Fellow freshman center Colton Iverson, who earlier in the season looked like he might be the go-to guy, played just nine minutes and didn’t score, while senior center Jonathan Williams missed another game with a calf injury.