I’ve been watching college basketball for a long, long time, and today was by far the craziest, most ridiculous, unimaginable game I’ve ever witnessed or even heard about. Nonsensical things cascaded down in waves until we were left with something that slightly resembled basketball but could hardly be explained. In short, what happened today stretched the rulebook and the imagination. And I want to talk about it, because there are about to be some terrible takes across the country that involve Minnesota.
If you haven’t already heard, the game transformed from a regular 5-on-5 contest that the Gophers were dominating into a literal 5-on-3 contest that left Minnesota running down the shot clock and taking midrange jumpers in hopes of just ending the game in the easiest possible fashion.
And one of the most bizarre games in the history of college basketball wasn’t even televised! Perhaps the saving grace of a game that was broadcast solely on Facebook is that it’s archived in its entirety. If you haven’t already, I urge you to take a look at the second half starting at about the 15-minute mark.
To set the scene, Nate Mason was heating up and Collin Sexton, the blue chip phenom guard had been chirping in his ear much of the game. At 14:40, Mason breaks Sexton’s ankles and stares him down before nailing a three. Sexton obviously didn’t like this, and on the next run when Mason lost the ball, the two got into some intense trash talking, which ended in a double technical foul. Mason didn’t let it end there, and kept it up until he was assessed a second technical foul, which meant he was ejected. This fired Pitino up, who was assessed ANOTHER technical foul, which completely shifted momentum to the Tide. What had been a double-digit lead and growing was now stopped in its tracks.
But, oh, we were not done. Not even by a long shot. After Sexton hit some of his free throws, Dupree McBrayer got tangled up with Alabama’s Dazon Ingram down low and all hell broke loose. The entire Alabama bench emptied onto the court as the skirmish ballooned into a near brawl. When all was said and done, the refs decided to eject all players that entered the court after the incident, which happened to be the entire Tide bench. This left just five eligible players for the Tide for the entire rest of the game - more than 13 minutes.
At the 11:37 mark, Ingram was called for his fifth foul, which meant he was out of the game and Alabama was left with just four players on the court. And a minute later? Freshman phenom John Petty twisted his ankle and was taken to the locker room. The result? That’s right. The Tide had just three players remaining for the final 10 minutes and 41 seconds. Three.
Now, this is where it got stupid. The idea of “real” basketball was out the window, and both teams had more or less resigned themselves to a Minnesota victory. For the rest of the game, Minnesota basically held the ball for 25 seconds and then either shot a three or a lazy pull-up jumper. There were no plays, there were no cuts, there was just a “let’s get this over with” attitude. It was not inspired basketball.
On the other end? The three Tide players tried their best and actually made a game of it, outscoring the Gophers down the stretch and actually pulling to within three points thanks to some impressive gymnastics from Sexton. But it wasn’t enough, and it was never going to be enough.
I’m not here to discuss the Xs and Os of 5-on-3 basketball, though. I want to talk about how this game is being perceived, because there are some awful, awful takes out there and the national media is going to be ALL over this on Sunday and beyond. Because this is a great story of David almost slaying Goliath in a ridiculous beyond-the-rulebook type scenario, when in reality it was much more Minnesota doing mathematics with the score and the clock, and not sweating a single-digit lead.
Things to remember:
- Anyone who watched the final 10 minutes could tell you that the Gophers wanted no part of this game at the end, and were clearly told to not run up the score. Sexton getting super hot wasn’t part of the plan, but the game was never in doubt. Case in point, when the lead shrank to three they fired an outlet pass down to Amir Coffey and he made an easy layup for insurance. Let’s not pretend like Minnesota couldn’t have scored when it wanted to. And let’s also not pretend like two of the remaining three Tide players didn’t have four fouls.
- Anything can happen for 10 minutes in a basketball game, including three players outscoring five players. It doesn’t mean that the victory is somehow diminished. If the team had been given the green light to run it up instead of pack it in, this game ends 100-84. What happens when one of the best freshmen in the nation is given full license to score in any way possible? He scores. Sometimes in dramatic fashion. That’s what happened for 10 minutes tonight.
- Finally, just because the Gophers “almost lost” to just three players does not somehow dismiss the fact that they beat a Top 25 team tonight. This game ended for all intents as purposes at the 11:37 mark when Ingram fouled out and left Alabama with just four players. That’s when real basketball ended (and should’ve been physically ended) and the game became a novelty side show. The Gophers won the actual game and should be credited as such.
Long story short, there’s going to be a lot of discussion where this victory is undercut because of how the score looks and what happened within it. The Gophers outplayed the full Alabama team for three quarters of the game before things went haywire. And at the end of the day this was a great victory over a good opponent that should boost them in the national rankings. I hope people recognize that.
What we SHOULD take away from this game is that a senior leader like Nate Mason needs to know when to walk away from a freshman who’s goaded him into a trash talking match that ends with him being ejected. That absolutely cannot happen. Minnesota is a team with swagger this year, but that comes with a certain amount of responsibility to keep it in check. We’re not the underdog anymore.