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One Game Short, But Two Steps Forward

The Gophers played 7 great halves of basketball in the Big Ten Tournament, but in the second half of the championship game against Ohio State, Minnesota had nothing left. But don't take anything away from what this team accomplished in four days in Indianapolis. They rocked Penn State, finally bested MIchigan Stated, humiliated Purdue, and made it to the conference final. All of that earned the Gophers an 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

In the second half against Ohio State Sunday afternoon, the team's usually stingy defense let up. Shots weren't being contested. Feet were dragging. The result was a tremendous Ohio State spurt that allowed them to take a 33-30 halftime lead and a 44-40 lead early in the second half and run way out to a lopsided Big Ten Tournament title. Evan Turner was tremendous and is clearly the best all around player in the country. Turner had 31, 11 and 6. For Big Ten fans not living in Ohio, it will be nice when he's playing in the NBA next year. Turner wasn't alone during Ohio State's run. David Lighty took over for a critical stretch. And it seemed like William Buford and Jon Diebler couldn't miss.

As a team, Ohio State didn't miss often. They shot almost 58 percent.

The Gophers were able to stem the tide a couple of times, but eventually Minnesota just didn't have an answer. They didn't help themselves by missing quite a few shots in the paint and a few open looks from the outside. Minnesota was also relatively careless with the basketball at times.

But one bad half shouldn't cloud the tremendous play from this team this weekend.

For three and a half games, it was clear this team has finally found an identity. The Gophers will fight you on the boards, pound the ball inside to two big men and hit the open three if you collapse down low. It took two seasons with Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III, but finally this weekend it looked like the team has embraced an inside-out approach to scoring the basketball.

Iverson's play in particular was stellar. Sampson had his moments, and is a very nice passer from the high-post. And Damian Johnson and Paul Carter were also able to score with their back to the baskets. All around nice weekend offensively from the big men.

And Devoe Joseph deserves some praise for his performance over the weekend. It wasn't until the overtime against MIchigan State that this Canadian kid has demonstrated he could carry a Big Ten team. Staring at Kalin Lucas, who has beaten the Gophers down the stretch before, It was Joseph who proved he could make the clutch shots in big games. That was great to see.

Another guard, Lawrence Westbrook, also deserves some applause. I know Minnesota fans like to rag on the senior, but Westbrook mostly played within himself, didn't force shots and seemed committed--and very good in stretches--on the defensive end.

This team went into Indianapolis wanting respect, after the team was snubbed by the conference's coaches. They went a long way to earning some of the respect they wanted. But they can take another step or two forward starting Friday afternoon in Milwaukee when they face sixth seeded Xavier. It hasn't been that this team has lacked talent. It's been a lack of consistency that kept Minnesota on the bubble for most of the season. For three nights in Indianapolis, the Gophers demonstrated continued excellence. If they want to be a respected team heading into next year, they'll take that same poise and determination into the NCAA Tournament.