INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tubby Smith was facing the same predicament Friday night as he was one year ago.
Minnesota’s coach sat in stoic disbelief, trying to figure out how another Big Ten tournament game got away and whether it would doom the Gophers’ postseason hopes.
The Gophers blew a nine-point lead in the final 4:37 of regulation. They botched two chances to win it in the closing seconds, couldn’t stop Trey Burke, and gave up a stretch of five straight 3-pointers as No. 10 Michigan rallied for a 73-69 overtime victory in Indianapolis.
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“We made some mistakes, we gave up those 3s, where we just, really, got lost,” he said. “You have to make those plays in the games, you have to make the stops and that’s sort of what we’ve had all year long.”
And now, with the Gophers (19-14) heading home from Indianapolis, they’ll have two days — and possibly the entire offseason — to figure out how to correct those mistakes.
Freshman guard Andre Hollins scored 21 points to lead the Gophers for the second straight game. He also had six assists.
Rodney Williams finished with 20 points and six rebounds, but missed an off-balance 10-foot buzzer-beater that would have won it at the end of regulation. Austin Hollins scored 11 points.
It just wasn’t enough.
“I said, let’s hold out hope, let’s keep hope alive that we will get an opportunity to play, but fate was in our hands and we just didn’t get it done,” said Smith, who was denied his 100th victory since taking the Minnesota job in 2007. “So we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
The difference in this quarterfinal matchup was the other freshman guard, Burke, who scored seven of his career-high 30 points in overtime, including the last 3-pointer in that late flurry.
Michigan (24-8) now faces either surging Purdue or archrival Ohio State on Saturday for a chance to reach Sunday’s title game. The Wolverines split the two-game series with both teams during the regular season and wound up tied with the Buckeyes and No. 8 Michigan State for the league’s regular-season title.
“We just kept telling each other that we weren’t going to win it on the offensive side, it was going to be the defensive side that was going to help us come out with the win,” Burke said. “We got down late in the game and our bigs stepped up. We all stepped up on the defensive end and got it into overtime, and that gave us another chance to get the win.”
Burke started fast, scoring 11 of Michigan’s first 12 points, and finished strong. He was 11 of 14 from the field, 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, had three assists, two rebounds, two blocks and two steals. He also had help.
Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18 of his 20 points after halftime. Zack Novak, Evan Smotrycz, Stu Douglass and Burke combined for five consecutive 3s — the first three helping to force overtime and the last two giving Michigan the early edge in the extra period.
That was all Burke and his teammates needed to boost their confidence.
“Except for these two right here, our whole team had been struggling. So give guys credit,” said Novak, who was sitting with Burke and Hardaway. “Evan is able to knock down a shot. Trey’s pretty much doing whatever he wants. I pretty much get wide open for one there. Tim hit me on another one and when you’ve got two guys that garner so much attention and guys that can get wide open shots, it’s our job to knock them down.”
With 4:37 left in regulation, Minnesota had a 54-45 lead and was in prime position to pull off the biggest upset of the tournament. But the Gophers managed only one more basket in regulation, gave up two 3s in the final 72 seconds of regulation and then failed to convert on either of their game-winning chances in the closing seconds.
Minnesota finally broke open the back-and-forth game when it went on a 13-4 run late in the second half. Williams’ emphatic slam dunk with 4:37 left made it 54-45.
Michigan then changed its philosophy.
By locking up Minnesota’s offense, it gave the long-range shooters a chance to go to work. Novak knocked down one 3 with 3:33 to go and another with 1:12 left to make it 56-53. Smotrycz’s 3 tied the score at 56 with 17.6 seconds left.
Douglass and Burke started overtime with two more 3s, and when Douglass’ 7-footer rolled in the Wolverines had a 64-57 lead with 2:13 to go. All they had to do was make free throws to close it out.
“Like I said it was the defensive end. We came out with a different attitude,” Burke said. “We locked down, we got on the boards. We just came out with another mindset. We came out and told each other we’re out here together and we got the win.”