With another solid performance at home, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team continued its push toward an improbable return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Gophers (14-10, 5-8 Big Ten) weren’t about to let Purdue wreck their home-court win streak Wednesday as they downed the Boilermakers 62-50 at Williams Arena.
“I thought it was a good win for us,” coach Dan Monson said. “I think we’re becoming a very good team, but good doesn’t cut it in this league; you gotta become great and we only got a few weeks to do that.”
Freshman guard Jamal Abu-Shamala opened with the game’s first five points on a pair of jumpers ‘ one of which turned into a three-point play.
Purdue (9-16, 3-11 Big Ten) countered with seven-straight points to take their only lead of the game, 7-5.
Sophomore forward Dan Coleman started a bench barrage, in which reserves scored 20 of 22 Minnesota points, with five straight points. Sophomore center Spencer Tollackson was fouled down low and hit one of two free throws.
Sophomore guard Rico Tucker scored a quick five, hiting a jumper in the corner and going down hard, asking the referee for a foul. He got one on the next play after intercepting a pass and went the length of the court for a lay-in, getting fouled in the process and making his fouls shot.
Coleman came back with an emphatic two-handed dunk off his own miss and Tollackson followed with a pair of buckets in the paint.
Despite playing a sloppy first half ‘ the teams combined for 21 turnovers ‘ the Gophers entered the locker room at halftime leading 27-19.
“When the starters started to struggle and they couldn’t find a rhythm Ö the guys on the bench gotta step up so the team doesn’t get down and dig yourself a hole at home,” Tucker said. “Especially in the situation we’re in, every game’s key.”
The Boilermakers got into foul trouble early in second half which allowed Minnesota to extend its lead to 39-28, despite opening the half just 3-of-9 from the floor.
The game was a defensive struggle and fittingly, the highlight of the game came on the defense end.
After Purdue guard Bobby Riddell came away with a steal, he bolted to the basket for the lay-in.
The 6-foot Tucker raced from the opposite end of the floor and leapt up to block Riddell’s lay-in from behind.
“It was awesome,” Tollackson said. “I looked back up and watched the JumboTron a couple times to see. It was pretty ridiculous how high he got.”
Even with the victory, Monson wasn’t all smiles after the game and was disappointed that his team let a 22-point lead dwindle to 12.
“A 12-point win a month ago, we’d be in this locker room just chest-bumping like nobody’s business,” Monson said. “But now we’ve raised the bar of who we want to be and how we want to play.”