U’s title shot blocked by Georgetown in 88-74 loss

Anthony Maggio

With 1:19 to play and Minnesota’s men’s basketball team down nine, the Gophers needed a defensive stop to keep their hopes of a National Invitation Tournament title game appearance alive. But Georgetown’s Mike Sweetney put the game away with authority.

Guard Drew Hall drove to the basket and dished to Sweetney. The 6-foot-8, 260-pound center threw down a two-handed dunk that sent Michael Bauer to the floor and earned the Gopher forward a foul.

The free-throw gave Sweetney 32 points and sealed the Hoyas 88-74 NIT semifinal victory at Madison Square Garden.

“Our guys were frustrated because we didn’t have an answer for (Sweetney),” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “He’s very efficient when he’s got the ball and he’s stronger than anybody we’ve got. He’s very productive in there.”

Rick Rickert led the Gophers with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Four others finished in double figures. Meanwhile, Bauer struggled from the floor, scoring four points on 2-of-9 shooting, including 0-of-6 from three-point range.

Sophomore Moe Hargrow finished with 11 points and seven turnovers.

As a team, Minnesota shot blanks from behind the arc, managing just 26.3-percent for the game – its lowest percentage in the NIT.

The Gophers will play in the third place game Thursday against Texas Tech, who lost to St. John’s 64-63 in the second semifinal game. Minnesota lost to Bobby Knight’s Red Raiders 99-89 in overtime on Dec. 28.

Down 47-33 at halftime, the Gophers started the second half with energy and defensive intensity to spark a 17-4 run, whittling Georgetown’s lead to only a point. But Sweetney scored four straight points and Minnesota lost its momentum.

Sparked by their big man, the Hoyas went on a 13-2 run to earn a 12-point lead with 11:47 to play.

Four times in the next five minutes the Gophers cut the lead to seven but could get no closer. Georgetown answered every run while the Hoyas’ defense held Minnesota to just 10 points in the final 7:37.

“I give credit to them,” guard Kevin Burleson said. “They’re a great defensive team. We just weren’t strong enough with the ball.”

Georgetown’s full court pressure caused Minnesota to commit 17 turnovers, leading to 22 Hoyas points.

“I wasn’t certain if we’d be able to trap,” Georgetown coach Craig Esherick said. “I started out thinking we’d have to try and see because that’s what really beat North Carolina and Tennessee (in the last two games), our aggressiveness on defense.

“Plus our aggressiveness on defense got us some easy baskets on offense.”

The Gophers kept things close early on, despite turning the ball over eight times in the first 10 minutes. But after cutting Georgetown’s lead to 23-21 with 9:30 to go in the half, the Hoyas went on a 19-8 run, pushing their lead to 13 points. At halftime, Georgetown had a comfortable 14-point advantage.

“When you give up 47 points in the first half it makes it really difficult to win a basketball game,” Monson said.

With no games of consequence left to play, the Gophers must regroup for the consolation game Thursday. The only motivating factor is notching a win in the face of finality.

“I’m a senior so it’s my last game,” Burleson said. “I’ll be up for it and (senior) Jerry (Holman) is, so we just have to get the rest of the team up for it.”