Student section holds court following upset

Jabari Ritchie

Following the dismal first half Minnesota’s men’s basketball team posted in Saturday’s game against 25th-ranked Indiana, one would only expect members of the Williams Arena crowd to mob the court after the game out of anger and frustration.

But despite seeing the Gophers trail by 11 at halftime, a throng from the student section would rush onto the floor in jubilation and disbelief to sing the rouser after Minnesota’s improbable 88-74 comeback victory.

“The security guy asked me if I wanted them out there and I said, ‘Heck yeah,'” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “Those students have stuck with us through three hard years since I’ve been here and they deserve to be a part of that.”

To bounce back from its largest halftime deficit of the year, Minnesota (13-7, 6-3 Big Ten) opened the second stanza on a 29-10 run.

“We knew we could come back,” said Minnesota forward Rick Rickert, who led the game with 27 points. “It was just how hard we wanted to work at it and how much we wanted to scrap and play defense. We just went out there with a totally different mentality.”

At halftime, the Hoosiers (14-7, 7-2) looked as if they would have no trouble ending the Gophers’ eight-game home winning streak. Not only did Indiana outrebound Minnesota 25-10, but the Hoosiers also took a 48-37 advantage into the locker room.

But when the teams retook the floor to start the second half, the Gophers were faced with a simple challenge from their coach.

“(Monson) wasn’t fired up,” said senior forward Dusty Rychart, who had 14 points and six rebounds. “He just came in there with a straight face and said, ‘Grow up. Be a man out there.’ He wasn’t throwing water bottles anywhere like he has before or pounding his fist against the
chalkboard.

“We were just getting the boards handed to us. They were out-hustling us and out-scrapping us and I thought for sure he was going to come out and throw a trash can at you or maybe rip the thermostat off the wall or something, but he came in there and just said, ‘Grow up.'”

Minnesota chipped at the Hoosiers’ lead for the first 10 minutes of the second half. Then the Gophers took control for good with a 16-1 run midway through the half.

Immediately after Jerry Holman’s lead-changing jump shot, Maurice Hargrow converted a steal by guard Travarus Bennett into a breakaway dunk that sent the near-sellout crowd into frenzy.

Minnesota never looked back.

“It felt really good,” said Bennett, who led the Gophers with eight rebounds, four steals and three blocks. “The crowd was into it and everybody had a belief that we could beat Indiana.”

While Minnesota had a decent offensive performance in the first half, shooting 48 percent and turning the ball over just four times, the Gophers suffered one of their worst defensive halves of the year.

The Hoosiers, taking advantage of four three-pointers and 15 points from guard Tom Coverdale, scored more first-half points than any of Minnesota’s other opponents had this season.

In the pivotal second half, the Gophers posted a .630 field goal percentage to outscore Indiana 51-26 and outrebounded the Hoosiers 19-16.

“At the half I told them, ‘If we lose, we lose, but we need to do it our way,'” Monson said. “At least in the second half it was on our terms. I thought we were much more aggressive defensively. We didn’t get every rebound, but at least we were battling for every rebound.”

After sweeping the last of a three-game homestand on Saturday, Minnesota is 12-1 at home. The Gophers are 3-0 at home against ranked opponents.

“If we’re at home tonight, we win by 20,” said Indiana coach Mike Davis. “But they were home and when they made shots, the crowd was unbelievable.”

Jabari Ritchie covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]