OT win enables Gophers to overcome themselves

Anthony Maggio

The faint of heart need not apply at Williams Arena.

As the final seconds of overtime ticked away Tuesday night, all 12,066 in attendance breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Minnesota’s men’s basketball team held off a quick, hot-shooting Arkansas-Little Rock team 86-84 while doing everything it could to keep the Trojans in the game.

“Those are the kind of games you learn a lot from,” coach Dan Monson said. “It was a real character check to be down. We had a game or two like that in the past we weren’t able to scrap out.”

After playing catch-up for most of the second half, the Gophers (5-1) surrendered a two-point lead with nine seconds left as Columbus Willis sneaked inside for a layup.

On the ensuing possession, Kevin Burleson turned the ball over with three seconds to play, forcing Minnesota to stop Arkansas-Little Rock and send the game into overtime.

In the final 30 seconds of overtime, Maurice Hargrow and Burleson both missed a pair of free throws, again keeping the Trojans in the game.

But the Gophers were the recipient of the biggest gift of the evening, an early Christmas present from the officials.

With 6.5 seconds left, Rick Rickert knocked a rebound out of bounds under Arkansas-Little Rock’s basket.

The officials incorrectly awarded Minnesota possession. Game over? Not on this night.

Burleson missed his pair of ensuing free throws, but the Gophers played solid defense to seal the two-point victory.

“What started in the game being our Achilles’ heel became our savior down the stretch,” Monson said.

Minnesota’s defense lacked intensity early on, allowing the Trojans’ shooters to get hot.

Minneapolis native Jibrahn Ike torched the Gophers in the first half, scoring 15 points from all over the floor.

Arkansas-Little Rock (4-3) shot an amazing 65.4 percent from the field in the first half, and Minnesota entered intermission down 46-44.

The Trojans continued their hot shooting in the second half, opening up an eight-point lead with just under 10 minutes to play.

Rickert kept the game close, scoring eight straight points midway through the second half.

“I noticed we were (in a lull), so when I got the ball I was just trying to take it strong to the hole, draw some fouls and make some free throws,” Rickert said.

Then the Gophers clamped down on defense.

“You’ve just got to put your foot down and put a little more effort into it,” Michael Bauer said. “We did that in the second half.”

Arkansas-Little Rock’s shooting percentage soon fell below 60 percent, then below 50 percent.

Minnesota held the Trojans scoreless for almost five minutes, and the crowd finally had something to cheer about when Bauer flipped a no-look pass to Jerry Holman, who thundered down a left-handed dunk to tie the game.

After a Rickert three on the next possession, Ike, who finished the game with 20 points, hit a three of his own to tie the game.

Rickert, who said he felt better this morning after suffering from the flu the since Thursday, led the way with 25 points.

When Ike fouled out with 1:58 left, Nick Zachery took over, scoring nine points in the final two minutes and overtime – including a 30-foot bomb over Holman – to keep the game interesting.

But in the end, the Gophers managed to squeak out their third game at home by three points or less.

“A win is a win; it wasn’t the prettiest or the best shooting night,” Hargrow said. “But we just have to keep finding ways to win.”

Anthony Maggio covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]