I have been preaching since the beginning of the season that winning for this Gopher club is going to come down to acquiring more possessions than their opponent. Why? Because if we don't have extra possessions to score, we then have to out-shoot the opponent to win. My theory is that we are not good enough to do this with any level of consistency. And this has pretty much rung true throughout the season. Games where we turn the ball over (giving away possessions) we tend to lose. And over the last month (even more so over the last couple weeks) our shooting has been very poor, resulting in a bad loss against Illinois and a nightmarish trip to Ohio State. In those two games our 3-point shooting % was just 19%!
But then the Iowa game happened and I'm still trying to wrap my mind around what happened on Tuesday night. A win unlike any other this season happened. Think on this. We turned the ball over on 20% of our possessions. Our defense allowed Iowa to score 1.23 points per possession (their 2nd highest offensive output since mid-January). And we gave up offensive rebounds on 37% of Iowa's misses. They earned a lot more possessions than we did and used them to build a significant advantage in points off turnovers (+10) and 2nd chance points (+10).
So how did the Gophers manage to win? The Gophers out-shot Iowa by a significant margin. I mean they shot the ball better than I can ever recall and blasted Iowa with our offensive weaponry. 58% shooting from three and 61% shooting overall for an effective FG% of 72.5%! Our previous season high was 62.5% and I went through every season back to 2003, this was out highest eFG% in that 11 year span. Incredible shooting performance Tues night.
Our ability to get to the free throw line was the other significant factor and that shouldn't be ignored. Going 24/29 from the free throw line will help you to stay in and win many games in the Big Ten. A renewed interest in being aggressive to the basket from guys other than just Deandre Matheiu really paid off. Austin and Andre combined to go 10-11 from the line. This kind of determination to get to the rim has been missing lately.
So great shooting and aggressiveness to the lane were good storylines from the game. But the real spark, the unique story and the thing that just came out of nowhere was Charles Buggs. Midway through the first half the Gophers were trailing 19-16. And then this happened...
Buggs was cool, calm and most importantly confident on Tuesday night. Quotes have surfaced that he has been playing well in practice, but for him to have played a total of 21 minutes all year (5 in Big Ten games) and confidently stroke this three that wasn't exactly wide-open (he had space, but not like he was completely unguarded), is impressive (or shocking?).
"The last few practices he's been knocking it down with guys in his face," junior point guard DeAndre Mathieu said. "Pick and pops. He's really good ... I think he'll play a lot more for us."
But he wasn't done with that game-tying three. That was just the beginning. His next basket was even a play designed for him, or at least he was one of the primary options depending on what the Iowa defenders did.
Minnesota has the ball under the basket and set up in a standard box set with the bigs on the ball side and guards on the opposite side of the lane. A simple screen across for the guards and the Iowa defense switches the screens. Joey King stays down near the low block (ball side) while Buggs makes a cut and flashes back towards the ball. Iowa's Mike Gesell, a 6'1" point guard, has to close the gap on Buggs and then try to defend the jumper from the 6'9" forward. Advantage Buggs who knocks down the 10-12 ft jumper.
And it looked a little something like this...
And then this happened while Iowa was at the end of a 13-2 run.
And then this happened as the Gophers were extending their lead. A defensive rebound on one end and then notice on the offensive end Buggs moving without the ball, the Gopher offense moving the ball and finally Buggs finding the open spot on the floor for what was a wide-open three.
At this point the Gophers were on a run of their own and The Barn was exploding.
Buggs did not play as many minutes in the second half and I love this quote from Amelia giving her opinion as to why Buggs didn't see the floor quite as much in the final 20 minutes.
The coach didn't play Buggs much in the second half in part because Pitino realized he probably can't be expected to perform like that for 40 minutes every game.
The coach had just won big at blackjack and wanted to leave the casino with his money.
Sure, our defense wasn't very good and we turned the ball over a lot but let us just savor this win for what it was. This was a fun game to watch and huge win for the team as they took a step towards getting back to the NCAA Tournament. Welcome to the party Mr. Buggs, I hope we see more of you.