Springs’ clutch shot lifts Gophers over Indiana
MINNEAPOLIS — Watching his first 10 shots ricochet off the rim didn’t deter Akeem Springs, and letting Indiana take the lead down the stretch didn’t rattle Minnesota.
The Gophers have sure grown up this month.
Springs followed his own missed 3-pointer with a flip from the baseline with 3 seconds left that lifted Minnesota to a 75-74 victory over Indiana on Wednesday night to hand the Hoosiers their fourth straight loss and give the Gophers their fourth consecutive win.
After driving through the defense to the top of the key, James Blackmon Jr. pulled up for a 3-point try at the buzzer that banged off the backboard.
“It just felt good to contribute after such a tough game,” said Springs, who finished just 2 for 13 from the field.
The senior transfer from Milwaukee launched a contested off-balance try from the corner after the play called by coach Richard Pitino fell apart. Jordan Murphy, who had his third straight double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds, was supposed to set a screen so the ball could be handed off so that Amir Coffey, who had all 17 of his points in the second half, could create a shot.
“My confidence doesn’t sway, at all,” Springs said.
The same can be said these days for the Gophers (19-7, 7-6 Big Ten), who lost five straight games in January, four of them by seven points or less. Nate Mason led the way again with 30 points, hitting 11 of 12 free throws and converting a layup with 39 seconds left for a one-point lead.
“It’s great, man, just knowing our team is as tough as we are,” Mason said.
Blackmon finished with 22 points for the Hoosiers (15-12, 5-9), after two quiet games following an absence caused by a lower left leg injury.
“We just need to come together even more like we have been, get better like we have been,” Blackmon said, trying to stay optimistic after the sixth loss in the last seven games by the Hoosiers.
Indiana failed again to cut down on turnovers and get going from behind the arc, but Blackmon helped the Hoosiers stay poised. A three-point play by Juwan Morgan gave them a 51-49 lead they didn’t lose until two free throws by Murphy put Minnesota in front with 1:06 left. Blackmon’s 3-pointer with 4:30 remaining gave Indiana a 65-60 lead.
Hoosiers coach Tom Crean put freshmen De’Ron Davis and Devonte Green in the starting lineup to form a 6-foot-10 tandem inside with Bryant and Davis. Davis fouled out in nine minutes of action, with 10 points. Bryant, who was scoreless in the first half, finished with eight points and 10 rebounds. His two made free throws with 17 seconds remaining put Indiana in front.
“Our guys came to fight tonight. There’s no doubt it,” said Crean, who earlier in the week lamented the “immaturity” of his experienced backcourt players. “Minnesota made one more play.”
The first half was the definition of the beleaguered state of the Hoosiers. Pitino was slapped with a technical foul less than 2 minutes into the game, soon after tearing off his suit coat and tie, and Minnesota missed its first seven shots from the floor. Indiana never took full advantage.
The Hoosiers led 22-12 past the 7-minute mark after Blackmon’s second 3-pointer, but they lost Reggie Lynch inside a few times for quick layups. Then Mason heated up, Murphy confidently swished a rare 3-point attempt and the Gophers were on their way to a 21-7 run to finish the half.
Indiana: The Hoosiers don’t have much hope left for the NCAA Tournament, with injuries once again having compounded their struggles with the season-long absence of Collin Hartman and recent loss of O.G. Anunoby.
“Our work ethic is so good, and our spirit and tenacity and improvement and togetherness is so good,” Crean said. “That’s why your heart aches for them.”
Minnesota: Lynch fouled out again, prompting Pitino to joke that he leads the country in “and-ones.” Freshman Eric Curry helped fill the void, with a key steal with 91 seconds left and tight defense on Bryant. Most importantly, Curry crashed hard to get a hand on the ball after Springs missed in the closing seconds and tipped it perfectly toward his teammate for the redemption try.
Indiana: The Hoosiers have the weekend off from the Big Ten grind before hitting the road again to play Iowa on Tuesday. Their final home game comes on Feb. 25 against Northwestern.
Minnesota: The Gophers stay at home to face Michigan on Sunday before a trip to Maryland on Feb. 22.