Title boosts hopes for coming season

by Tim Klobuchar

NEW YORK — As satisfying as the Gophers’ National Invitation Tournament championship is to seniors Sam Jacobson, Eric Harris and Rob Schoenrock — who were able to end their careers on a winning note — the title might be even more beneficial to the returning players who will be intent on avoiding the NIT next season.
“We’re looking forward to next year,” junior forward Miles Tarver said. “That’s also what this tournament serves for. Going into next year we have a lot of talent coming back, and a lot of talent coming in, too. Hopefully, it’s off to bigger and better things next year.”
The postseason success not only gives confidence and experience to the Gophers, but added exposure as well.
“This is very important,” coach Clem Haskins said. “Kevin Clark and Quincy Lewis get a chance to showcase their ability. Now the whole world knows they can play basketball.”
Minnesota also has some unknown quantities coming in next season. Highly touted seven-foot center Joel Przybilla will be heavily scrutinized. The other freshman arrivals so far are point guard Kevin Burleson and forward Nick Sinville.
The Gophers still have two scholarships available, and Haskins said earlier this season he’d like to sign a two-guard or small forward as a scoring threat off the bench and a power player. One or both of the players could come from the junior college ranks, from which Haskins has recently plucked Clark and Bobby Jackson.
Louisiana State transfer Terrance Simmons sat out this season, and figures to be the starting point guard next year as a sophomore. Mitch Ohnstad, a sophomore transfer from Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo, will give Minnesota more depth in the backcourt.
Before moving on the future, however, it’s worth looking back at a season that, through most of it, gave no indications it would end with any postseason success:
ù In their Williams Arena opener Nov. 17, the Gophers are pounded 75-64 by Utah State in the first round of the preseason NIT.
ù Five days later Jacobson misses a last-second three-pointer that would’ve given Minnesota a win over Alabama at Williams Arena. Instead, the Gophers lose 64-63.
ù On Jan. 7, the Gophers lose 66-59 at Northwestern, their first loss there since 1989. Jacobson misses the first of three consecutive games with a strained back.
ù On Jan. 18 Jacobson returns for a home game against Iowa. Minnesota loses 82-69.
ù Two days later Minnesota reaches its nadir with a hideous 65-57 loss at Michigan to fall to 0-6 in the Big Ten.
ù The Gophers finally break through on Jan. 24 with a 76-53 win over hapless Ohio State at Williams Arena.
ù In a Jan. 31 game at Indiana, Haskins is ejected during the game’s first TV timeout. The Gophers lose 95-82.
ù The Gophers hit a school-record 14 three-pointers in an 88-78 victory over Michigan at Williams on Feb. 7.
ù On Feb. 12, Minnesota wins its first road game of the year, a 73-71 thriller at Iowa.
ù The Gophers falter late in a Feb. 25 game at Purdue, losing 87-83 to fall to 12-14 on the year. A postseason berth looks remote.
ù The Gophers beat Northwestern 64-56 in the first game of the inaugural Big Ten tournament.
ù Minnesota pulls off an upset in the second round of the tournament, beating top-seeded Michigan State 76-73 thanks to Harris’ career-high 29 points. The win gives the Gophers a 15-14 record, assuring them of the .500 record necessary for an NIT berth.
ù After handily beating Colorado State and Alabama-Birmingham in the first two rounds, the Gophers slip by Marquette 73-71 in the third round, getting them to New York for the semifinals.
ù Quincy Lewis hits a three-pointer with 4.8 seconds left in regulation to send Minnesota’s NIT semifinal game with Fresno State into overtime, where the Gophers eventually prevail 91-89.
ù The Gophers beat Penn State 79-72 in the NIT championship game. Kevin Clark, who scored 58 points in the two games at Madison Square Garden, is named tournament MVP.