History was made. A court was stormed. A resume improved. A call was answered.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers defeated the 1st place Purdue Boilermakers 73-69 at Williams Arena in what will surely go down as one of the most memorable scenes in recent Gopher basketball memory. Sturdy defense, contributions from some unlikely heroes, and their best player playing like their best player all led to a joyous scene on the Barn’s raised floor for the maroon and gold faithful. Let’s break it down line by line.
First, the history made. Amir Coffey became the first Gopher since Vincent Grier during the 2004-2005 season with back-to-back 30 point games in another stellar performance from the junior out of Hopkins. Coffey played a brilliant game finishing 8-15 from the field (3-4 from three) and stuffing the stat sheet with 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. He was everything the Gophers needed out of their best player in a must-win situation. He aggressively asserted himself early on pushing the tempo, not waiting for Purdue’s defense to get fully set before attacking the hoop and either finishing with a floater or passing to an open man.
Next, a court was stormed. Despite being up 9 points with 3:45 to play, 7 with 2:05 to play, and 6 with 0:29 to play, these cardiac Gophers still had to make things interesting. Coffey, not perfect by any means from the free throw line on this night, missed a few late free throws and Carsen Edwards hit some shots. The score stood at 71-69 with just under 6 seconds left. An errant pass from Brock Stull (who we’ll get to in just a second) looked questionable as soon as it was released from his hands. Purdue forward Grady Eifert attempted to bat the ball off Coffey on the sideline. While the play went to review, there wasn’t conclusive evidence to overturn the initial call on the court of Minnesota basketball and the Gophers dodged a massive bullet. Coffey hit the final two free throws and the party was on as the student section threw caution into the wind and climbed the raised floor to celebrate with their seniors.
As Coach Richard Pitino spoke to the jubilant crowd on the court, he beckoned each senior to the microphone so they could speak. One, senior forward Jordan Murphy, said something along the lines of, “I can’t wait to play for you in the tournament.” Most on the broadcast, in the arena, and around the program assumed this victory all but cliched a NCAA Tournament bid for the Golden Gophers. While that is still a discussion to be had, there was no doubt it was on the minds of players, fans, and coaches based on their reactions Tuesday night. Beating Purdue at home will qualify as a “Quad 1 Win,” giving Minnesota three on the year. It gives the Gophers a chance at a .500 conference record and keeps them off the wrong side of the bubble (at least according to most prognosticators) for the time being. All things considered, it was a resume improved.
And finally, a call was answered. The call was for the upperclassmen to show up and show out. And boy did they. Even the ones who were considered non-essential just a few hours before tip-off.
Shortly before the game began, it was announced that Eric Curry would miss the rest of the season with a right foot injury. In addition to that most unfortunate news, Michael Hurt was also announced as unavailable to play due to a groin injury. Despite both players underachieving this season, the Gophers’ bench was suddenly considerably shorter. Any foul trouble or in-game injury was going to have massive ramifications on their chances against the Boilermakers. And, as always, sports found a way to enhance the story line.
Freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur played admirable defense on likely First Team All-Big Ten member Carsen Edwards (7-31 from the field for the game). However, with this hounding defense came inevitable foul trouble about mid-way through the first half. Enter much-maligned graduate transfer senior Brock Stull. While Stull didn’t make an impact from the three-point line, he grabbed 5 rebounds (he ended the game with 6) during a crucial stretch of play in the latter portions of the first half. He played serviceable defense and only committed a single turnover. The guy wasn’t Steph Curry but he wasn’t a liability either. He was crucial in getting the Gophers to a double digit advantage at the half and saving it down the stretch. Additionally, freshman center Daniel Oturu didn’t have a very good game. Enter another senior former transfer in Matz Stockman. He played the best game of his Minnesota career at the most crucial time. Stockman successfully quieted the nuisance known as Matt Haarms, who keyed the Boilermakers to victory in the teams’ first meeting of the season. Haarms finished 1-8 for from the field in this game with only 5 rebounds. Stockman added a career high 7 blocks to go along with 9 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 very amusing fast break steal.
It truly was a team effort though as the more heralded seniors played their parts perfectly. The double-double machine also known as Jordan Murphy recorded 13 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block in what can be best described as a workman like performance. Dupree McBrayer had 10 points on 3-8 shooting but more importantly contributed to the box score in other ways, something that had been missing in a lot of games for McBrayer this season. He had 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 0 turnovers and fouls. It was an underrated performance from the senior guard.
All in all it was a rather magical scene. Jarvis Johnson got to dress in uniform for the occasion. The Gophers got a desperately needed victory over an elite team. Amir Coffey reminded everyone how good he can be. The insanity, euphoria, and hyper activeness that is being a college student spilled over onto the Barn floor and created quite the platform for the seniors to give their final farewells. Pitino called for Murphy’s number to be hung in the rafters.
It’s possible that Minnesota will sputter out in these last few games of March. Perhaps they lose their last two and don’t even make the tournament because of a shrinking bubble. But maybe, just maybe, that won’t matter. The scene on Tuesday night was, for many reasons, an excellent encapsulation of why, even in this age of cynicism, college sports is still a wonderful example of the human spirit.