Rub those eyes, check that newspaper box score and pinch yourself repeatedly, because this is not a drill — the Minnesota Golden Gophers are headed to the Final Four after a ridiculous 74-71 defeat of the Michigan State Spartans in the Elite Eight.
Once again, the Gophers found themselves in a tight situation down the stretch. But is there any other scenario this late in the season? Marcus Carr and Daniel Oturu were both playing with four fouls, and Carr had picked up his fourth with more than seven minutes left in the game.
With 4:30 left in the game, the Spartans were threatening to run away, going on a 6-0 run to stretch the lead to six at 70-64 and building their biggest lead of the game. And it was about that time that Carr went into beast mode once again. Sure enough, the point guard returned from the bench and put the team on his back, ripping off two circus-style finishes including an and-one to tie the game. At one point he’d scored seven straight points to tie the game.
But it was a untimely foul by Spartan forward Xavier Tillman, who put Gabe Kalscheur at the line after nearly running down the entire shot clock for the Gophers. Kalscheur promptly buried both free throws, and a quick miss on the other end on a forced Cassius Winston fadeaway left Minnesota holding the ball and their golden ticket to the Final Four.
It was the fourth and final crack at Michigan State for the Gophers, who had struck out in two regular season games an an OT thriller in the Big Ten Championship just a couple weeks ago. Needing revenge in the worst way, the Minnesota D clamped down on the Spartans and minimized their own mistakes to hang with Tom Izzo and crew in what was a back-and-forth night with 13 lead changes.
The Gophers also spread out the scoring with four players in double figures. Oturu had a “pedestrian” 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Carr finished with 21 points and 7 assists. Gabe Kalscheur was 4-7 from deep, scoring 16 points, while Isaiah Ihnen continued his hot play, scoring 12.
For head coach Richard Pitino, it’s the cherry on top of what has become a grandiose sundae of a season; one that has taken a meandering heart-stopping path to get where we currently are and has been chock full of drama, emotion, exhaustion and execution. A Gopher team that was left for dead mere weeks ago is now part of the sport’s biggest state. As a 12-seed no less. As the final team selected to the NCAA Tournament field.
Another wild weekend in the books for the Gophers in this zany college basketball season. They will truly have their work cut out for them this weekend, as they get to face the best team in all the land — the Kansas Jayhawks.