After an painfully slow start, the Gophers managed to take the lead and hold that lead throughout the game, resulting in a 78-75 win over Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament. This was the third Big Ten win for the 14th seeded Gophers and essentially eliminated Nebraska from any post season opportunity.
Minnesota started the first 5:43 shooting 0-5 with 4 turnovers and just 2 points before finding their groove and really playing their best basketball of the season. Jamison Battle made a layup with under 10 minutes in the first half to take a 15-13 lead and they never trailed again.
But the game wasn’t without it’s drama.
With 9:01 remaining in the game and the Gophers leading by 7, Jamison Battle makes a questionable decision to try and take a charge with four fouls. The result was a block call, Battle was out of the game, Ben Johnson got a technical and Nebraska made 4 free throws to close the game to 60-57.
Having watched this team struggle to score points, struggle to make free throws and now playing for 9 critical minutes without their best player, this was a time to worry. But this Gopher team managed to play together and shoot 10/13 from the free throw line in the final minutes to hold on and beat Nebraska.
Potentially a sign that this group is getting better and figuring out how to win the Big Ten, this was a great win for a team that has been through rough season. There were two primary areas where the Gopher excelled last night.
The first was defensive rebounding. This group has really struggled with defensive rebounding this season, ranking last in the Big Ten and 286th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. Last night, they locked this down. Allowing only 6 offensive rebounds (16.7%, which was their 2nd best Big Ten showing). When Nebraska misses 41 total shots (including free throws), securing over 83% of those misses was vital. Hats off to Dawson Garcia and Battle who combined for 20 defensive rebounds.
The other truly encouraging from last night’s win was their ball movement. The team was zipping the ball around the perimeter, finding open guys and then making shots. Finding guys and getting them the ball in the right spots to score has been a real struggle for this team throughout the season. This was partially due to a rather weak Nebraska defense, but the Gophers ran an offense, moved the ball and made their shots.
As a group they shot over 60% from two, over 41% from three and had 25 assists on their 27 made field goals.
This was a great, team win for the Gophers. One they needed after such a challenging season. Ben Johnson claims that this core of players has been all-in throughout the season. And their hard-work paid off with a fun win in Chicago last night.
Up next, a date with Maryland.