It wasn’t a good night to be at Williams Arena for two of the leading scorers in the Big Ten on Wednesday.
Indiana’s Bracey Wright and Minnesota’s Vincent Grier, the conference’s top- and sixth-ranked scorers, respectively, struggled mightily, shooting a combined 10-for-36.
In the end, Grier simply had more help.
In a game that saw the lead change hands 10 times in the first half, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team held it for the entire second half, building a 15-point lead and holding on for a 70-65 win over Indiana in front of 11,183.
“We played very well in the gut of the game – the last 10 minutes of the first half and the first 10 of the second half,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “We made it difficult on ourselves there toward the end and made it harder than we had to, but we were able to finish this time.”
The Gophers (14-5, 4-2 Big Ten) closed the first half in strong fashion, scoring the last basket with 33 seconds left to give them a 31-30 lead going into the break.
They extended that momentum into the second half, allowing just one field goal in the first 11:42 while going on a 16-2 run to extend the lead to 15.
Jeff Hagen, looking more comfortable in a new-fitted brace on his sprained left knee, led the Minnesota attack early en route to a 15-point effort.
But Indiana (9-8, 4-2) came back strong, whittling the lead down to five with just more than three minutes left.
And then, J’son Stamper showed up.
Stamper pulled down seven rebounds and hit seven of 10 free throws in the second half, scoring five of the Gophers’ final eight points and keeping the game at a safe distance in the waning moments.
“Stamper was the MVP of the game,” said senior Brent Lawson, who scored six points and provided invaluable defense on Wright. “That’s why he was brought in here: He grabbed every single rebound. It’s just what he does.”
Stamper bailed out fellow junior college transfer Grier, who shot just 4-of-15 from the field but still scored 15 points.
Wright won the scoring battle with 19 points, but the conference’s leading scorer was 0-for-10 from three-point range and missed some open looks toward the end of the game.
By the time it was over and the Gophers had beaten a team that had been tied for second in the Big Ten before the game, the jubilation was evident.
“A win like this is big for our program,” said senior Aaron Robinson, who added nine points to the winning effort. “It never even crossed my mind that we could lose. We got a little bit tight, but we’ve been through games like this before, and we knew we’d pull it out.”