Minnesota’s men’s basketball team has seen it all before. There have been miracle three-pointers, historic comebacks and epic collapses. And they’ve been on the short end of them all during the Big Ten season.
The most devastating moment might have been Jan. 28 when Michigan State hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, in which the Gophers lost.
So when guard Adam Boone missed two free throws with 7.5 seconds remaining and the Gophers leading by three points versus Michigan on Wednesday night, it wouldn’t have been too surprising to the 12,404 in attendance at Williams Arena if Dion Harris’ shot at the buzzer somehow went in.
But Harris’ shot hit the front of the rim and bounced off as time expired, as Minnesota earned its first Big Ten victory in nearly a year, 81-78.
“I was a little nervous,” center Jeff Hagen said. “I had flashbacks to the Michigan State game. We forced him into a tough shot. After that, I was one of the happiest guys in the world.”
The Gophers (9-13, 1-9 Big Ten) earned their first victory since Jan. 10 and their first Big Ten win since Feb. 22, 2003.
While the Gophers get their first “W” in the conference standings, neither team established itself until midway through the second half.
At intermission, the two teams had combined for 25 turnovers and 26 fouls. Seven of Michigan’s players had two fouls.
The Wolverines (13-7, 4-5) went solely to man-to-man defense – the team’s trademark system – in the second half, and the Gophers capitalized.
Freshman Kris Humphries found his scoring touch and Hagen proved to be the second low-post option Minnesota has lacked this season.
While Humphries scored 20 points and added 10 rebounds, the Gophers’ 7-footer also made his presence felt in the paint, scoring 16 points and contributing 10 rebounds.
“He got our transition game going,” said guard Ben Johnson, who added 20 points of his own. “He really controlled the paint for most of the game.”
The change in momentum came when the Wolverines’ Bernard Robinson Jr. picked up his fourth foul with 11:26 remaining and Michigan clinging to a seven-point lead.
Robinson, the senior leader of a young Michigan squad, took his 14 points and leadership to the bench.
“He played a good game,” Wolverines coach Tommy Amaker said. “It didn’t help (that he had foul trouble).”
The Gophers tied the game 59-59 with 9:29 remaining and never looked back, building to a 10-point lead with 3:56 left.
Boone, who came off the bench for the first time this season, added 11 points and five assists.
Minnesota plays Saturday at Michigan State, more confident and definitely happy to be on the plus side of the scoreboard.
“We got one win,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “It doesn’t cure us, but it certainly puts a Band-Aid on it which is nice to have.”