With 17 seconds remaining and a one point deficit in front of them, the Minnesota Gophers had a clear need. Just one basket. That’s all they needed.
With those 17 seconds in front of him, Akeem Springs took the ball into his own hands and embraced his matchup with James Blackmon Jr. Springs dribbled it out to the left side of the rim, stepped back behind the three-point line, and let one fly just short of the rim.
Conventional wisdom tells you that Minnesota failed at achieving their goal in that moment. Akeem Springs defied conventional wisdom.
Springs never gave up on the play as his short shot bounced off the rim. Springs, noticing that James Blackmon Jr. was no longer in front of him to box him out, ran to the rim to pick up the rebound and lay in the game winner.
After last game, Tom Crean called the Hoosier’s play “remedial.” Tonight, Indiana’s inability to do the simple things held them back from victory. Indiana lost to Minnesota 75 to 74 thanks to a 35 percent shooting percentage, 14 total turnovers, and foul trouble. All of that, and one missed box out to end the game.
“We were winning these games a year ago when we had seniors and we had experience,” said Crean. “ Now we’re not getting them, but our team took a major step of growth tonight.”
Indiana opened the game in an unconventional fashion. Tom Crean altered his starting lineup to include Devonte Green and De’ron Davis, leaving Hoosier constants Robert Johnson and Juwan Morgan to come off the bench.
From there, that unconventional beginning only continued as both teams combined for six turnovers in the first six minutes. That unconventional start then became the perfect transition for an unconventional game in its entirety, fueled by back and forth runs and a set of field goal percentages in the 30s.
Minnesota went on an 8-0 run facilitated by three Freddie McSwain turnovers in 90 seconds, then Indiana went on a 12-0 run seven minutes remaining in the first half, and finally Minnesota ended the half on a 11-0 run, leaving the Gophers with a 33 to 29 lead at halftime.
Within the first half, Indiana’s depleted front court found itself in clear trouble from the get-go. That trouble wasn’t from a lack of effectiveness, rather it was solely based upon foul trouble. Indiana forward De’Ron Davis played just above three minutes in the first half and, in those three minutes, accumulated three fouls.
With Davis off the floor for a majority of the half, Thomas Bryant found himself relegated to constant double teams, leaving him without a single point in the first half.
Indiana stayed within reach of the Gophers thanks to the scoring efforts of recently criticized junior guard James Blackmon Jr. Blackmon finished his night with 22 points on 7 for 17 shooting.
“They came out there and battled,” said Crean. “The stuff they missed on is correctable, but this team came to fight tonight.“
Blackmon Jr. wasn’t the only junior guard that was recently criticized. After last game, Coach Tom Crean said the juniors on this Hoosier basketball team lacked the ability to look beyond themselves.
Blackmon responded to the comment by scoring 22 points. Junior guard Robert Johnson responded by not scoring any.
After halftime, this game remained possessed by oddity. There is no better example of this sentiment than the 23 seconds before the midway point of the second half.
With 10 minutes and 23 seconds left in the game, Juwan Morgan missed a dunk.
With 10 minutes and 18 seconds left in the game, Dupree McBrayer missed a layup.
With 10 minutes and 10 seconds left in the game, Robert Johnson missed an open three.
Then, with 10 minutes and 7 seconds left in the game, Juwan Morgan grabbed the offensive board and fought through contact for a basket and a trip to the free throw line.
This set of possessions stood to be remarkably indicative of the back and forth play that would plague this game. Indiana continued to push through until the end when Josh Newkirk fouled out with three minutes and 52 seconds remaining.
With Newkirk off the floor, the Hoosier pushed the ball into the post for three baskets in a row from De’Ron Davis.
Even with the team’s 14 turnovers and 35 percent shooting, the Hoosiers still found themselves with a 70 to 67 point lead with one minute and 37 seconds remaining.
Then, De’Ron Davis fouled out with just over a minute left to go.
“To get nine minutes out of De’Ron and have Josh foul out in the game and then to still be there with a one point lead going down to the last possession…I’m proud of them,” said Crean.
Minnesota’s Nate Mason scored 30 points in the game, and he found himself on the winning side come game’s end.
“The result is not good, but the reality is that these guys are fighting,” said Crean. “Anybody that wouldn’t see that, isn’t trying to see it.”