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Are Moral Victories a Thing? Reflections on Minnesota-Indiana

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Minnesota Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Suppose for the sake of argument that you are a fan of a 1-7 conference team that is short three players from the usual eight man rotation. Suppose further that two of the injured players are your two best post players. On the other team is arguably the best low post player not named Zack Edey in the conference. The line for the game jumps to 10.5 on this news, and your colleague may or may not have picked up that bet feeling an easy money win. How should you feel that your team only loses by 4 and were tied under the final minute?

Indiana defeated Minnesota 61-57 at the Barn two nights ago. All of that happened. Trayce Jackson-Davis remains annoyingly good at basketball. A short-handed Gophers team were led by Jamison Battle briefly turning into Steph Curry to almost win. Battle was 4-9 from three. The rest of the team was 1-16. As a whole, the Gophers shot 34% from the field. Minnesota was 8-14 from the free throw line to keep their place as the worst free throw shooting team in the country.

And yet...

An undermanned team grabbed just about every loose ball. They put Indiana in foul trouble. They won the offensive rebounding battle. Treyton Thompson shot the ball 13 times, and most of those shots were, uh, fine? Defensively, the team had one of its best performances of the season. Indiana was awful from the field, and the Gophers forced 10 turnovers. Battle briefly went Super Saiyan and it was awesome. From the television broadcast, the Barn briefly rocked in the way that makes it the best atmosphere in college hoops. (Yes, yes, I know other places are better for 40 minutes. That has everything to do with the product and not the fanbase).

It is an open question if the Gophers are going to win more than 5 games in conference play this season. Many aspects of the team are frustrating (hello offensive spacing). Consider this piece then a meditation on moral victories. They do not show up in the box score. They are the kind of topic that bland sports broadcasters talk about in the interim show before the next tip off. Normally, I do not think they matter.

And yet...

Wednesday felt like a moral victory for the how the team played. Aggressive and taking the game to an opponent, even though that opponent was much better. It was a moral victory in my eyes, and maybe even an unjust result at the box score. When the season is a steady diet of disappointments, I think I’ll cling to the joy of watching a team go hard for a loose ball all the same.


I checked the stats. The Gophers are the worst free throw shooting team in my lifetime. I stopped checking before that because gore is not my thing.

Thompson fouled out in part because his fourth fall was the heinous offense of being elbowed in the face. CBJ was, shall we say, displeased with that whistle.

Will Ramberg scored a put back after getting a rebound via (almost) choke hold of Jamison Battle. Funniest play I’ve seen this year. Battle’s initial reaction appeared to be yelling at the ref that he was fouled.