Minnesota defeated Purdue in a game that would have made 1980s basketball proud 71-68. With the win, the Gophers improve to 13-7 on the season and 6-7 in conference play. Marcus Carr led all scorers with 19 points.
The game was a street fight. One game removed from fouls called if a player so much as breathed on an opponent, Minnesota and Purdue returned to a good old Big Ten slugfest. With the hilariously poor shooting from distance from both teams, one might have reasonably confused it with a game from the early 80s.
Fortunately, Minnesota came out on top on the back of some key late makes and excellent defense against a very dangerous Purdue team. The entire game was a back and forth affair. Minnesota had no answer for Trevion Williams, who can go pro anytime he wants. Frankly, the Gophers did not have a good solution for either Williams or Zach Edey. That turned out to be all right because no one else on Purdue was very good at shooting, and absolutely no one on the Boilermakers could buy a three for most of the game. That was partially due to Minnesota’s excellent three-point defense, but most teams are not going to have Gopheresque shooting performances.
The Gophers received big games from Brandon Johnson (my player of the game), and Jamal Mashburn Jr. Johnson was 7-9 from the field, added seven rebounds, two assists, a steal, and a block. That is the kind of performance that this team desperately needs from the starting four-man. Johnson was 7-7 from inside the arc, and most of those were tap ins after Liam Robbins found him under the basket.
Mashburn Jr. provided an offensive spark. Briefly, he was NBA Jam on fire, scoring and driving with abandon. Much of the freshman’s weaknesses have manifested on the defensive end of the floor, but Mashburn put in a solid effort on that end of the floor.
Even with great offensive performances, the Gophers trailed by two points with 26 seconds to play after Trevion Williams made another basket. Fortunately, Pitino ran a set to give Marcus Carr had the ball on the top wing near the home bench with a chance to win the game. As per usual, Carr did this.
Gabe Kalscheur sealed the game with two free throws.
Remember freshman year Gabe Kalscheur? Don’t we all. Today that player returned in the second half. Kalscheur was 3-4 from distance in the second half and 4-7 on the day. He also made clutch free throws late and continued to be the best on-ball defender in the Big Ten.
As I have said throughout the season, we have not seen the best version of this team. During individual games, a few players will step up, but others will struggle. I say this as background to my reason for believing that even though Liam Robbins pulled down a double-double with 11 points and ten rebounds and added four blocks, three assists, and a steal, I thought he had a down game. Robbins is a great target in the post, and whenever he was able to set up shop in the paint, good things happened for the Gophers. I think Robbins has the chance to be special, and I hope to see more action run to give him the ball in the low block with time to make good decisions.
The magic number is 4.