MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - There’s a consensus among the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team that Tuesday night’s win over Purdue is enough to put the Gophers in the NCAA Tournament.
It was their third Quadrant 1 win of the season, and put them at 9-10 in the Big Ten with one league game left at Maryland Friday night before next week’s Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota’s other quality wins this season include at Wisconsin, against Iowa and a neutral site win over Washington at the Vancouver Showcase.
Many bracket experts had Minnesota (19-11, 9-10) comfortably in the Big Dance before the Gophers beat the Boilermakers 73-69 at Williams Arena. After beating the No. 11-ranked team in the country, they feel good about their chances of getting a bid on Selection Sunday. That’s regardless of what happens at Maryland Friday or at next week’s conference tournament.
“I think we wrapped it up, I really do. That was a Quad 1 win, we’ve got a bunch of Quad 2 wins. That doesn’t mean the season is over by any means,” coach Richard Pitino said. “I do think that was an important win, and I think we’ll be back in the tournament.”
If they do get called, that would mark the second time in three years under Pitino that the Gophers would be in the NCAA Tournament. It could’ve been three straight years, if not for injuries to Eric Curry, Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer last season, plus the suspension of Reggie Lynch.
But Tuesday’s win didn’t come without some stress and nerves. It was the final regular season home game for the Gophers, the final time five seniors would be at The Barn. Jordan Murphy, McBrayer, Brock Stull, Matz Stockman and Jarvis Johnson all knew how pivotal beating the Boilermakers was. They needed a quality win, and it was a chance to send the seniors out with a win.
Murphy said it was the most pressure the team faced in two years, when the Gophers won 24 games and were a No. 5 seed in March Madness. He was a sophomore.
“Everyone looks for those big moments in their career, just something they can hang their hat on and remember for the rest of their life. That was one of those moments,” Murphy said on Wednesday's Gophers Coaches Show. “Our guys did a good job of recognizing the pressure and those big moments that we have, the opportunity that we have in front of us. Recognizing that this team can do something special if we could just break through.”
Murphy hopes it’s just the start of a postseason run. He scored 13 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the win. He will go down as Minnesota’s all-time leading rebounder, and is currently No. 2 all-time in the Big Ten with 1,262 career rebounds. He’s also sixth in career scoring for the Gophers with 1,718 points.
But he’d rather be known for winning than filling a stat sheet. His jersey will hang in the Williams Arena rafters some day. So what will his legacy be? He wants it to be known for being a good teammate.
“Hopefully remembering how hard I played and just knowing that I’m all about the team, just want to win,” Murphy said.
When Coffey sank two free throws with less than three seconds left to seal the victory, Pitino watched as students rushed the Williams Arena court and celebrated with players. It was the biggest of the season, on the national stage and in an electric environment. The added plus? He got contributions from two seniors in Stockman and Stull who aren’t in the regular rotation.
Stull played 22 minutes, scoring four points and grabbing six rebounds. Stockman had his best game of the season with nine points, seven blocked shots and six rebounds in 24 minutes.
Pitino made sure during the post game celebration on the court that each of his seniors got a chance with the microphone to thank fans for their support both during the season and their energy in Tuesday’s win.
“It was awesome because as a coach, you want a happy locker room. You’ve got 13 scholarship guys and you want those guys to play, but you can’t play them all. They’ve got to see that they’re part of a team,” Pitino said. “We talk about family, team, sacrifice and all those things. You may not play as much as somebody else does, but you have to be ready for the betterment of the team. They were ready when they needed to be called on.”
Their best player also played his best game when his team needed it the most. Coffey scored 32 points, his second straight game with at least 30 points and third of the season. He shot 8-of-15 from the field, made three of Minnesota’s four 3-pointers and was 13-of-18 at the free-throw line.
But there’s more. He was part of a group effort to contain Carsen Edwards, who scored 22 points but shot 7-of-31 from the field, including just 3-of-15 from the perimeter. It was a complete effort on both ends of the floor.
“He played terrific defense. He was chasing Carsen Edwards all over the court. To do that and be as efficient offensively, that’s very, very difficult to do,” Pitino said.
The formula is pretty simple: When Coffey is at his best, the Gophers are as well. In Minnesota’s nine Big Ten wins, he’s averaging 26 points, 4.1 assists per game and shooting better than 52 percent from the field. In their 10 losses, he’s scoring just 11.4 points, getting 2.1 assists and shooting 35.3 percent from the field.
Minnesota moved up two spots to No. 54 in the NCAA’s net rankings after beating Purdue. The Gophers are No. 42 in the RPI, No. 53 in the BPI and No. 45 in the Kenpom rankings, all factors the NCAA uses in selecting at-large teams. ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Minnesota as a No. 11 seed after the Purdue win. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has the Gophers as a 10 seed. College analyst Andy Katz has the Gophers as an 11 seed.
All the experts have the Gophers as an NCAA Tournament team, and rather comfortably with one regular season game left and the Big Ten Tournament. The Gophers aren’t going to celebrate beating the Boilermakers too long. There’s still work to do.