Indianapolis – In case you thought things couldn't get any worse during this Hoosier basketball season, Blake Hoffarber proved they can.
With :01.5 left and Minnesota trailing by one, the Gophers' sharp-shooting left hander caught a full-length court pass from Travis Busch, spun, and hoisted an off-balance shot toward the rim.
Some how it fell, and the Gophers stole an improbable 59-58 win from the Hoosiers in the Big Ten quarterfinals at Conseco Fieldhouse.
"Coach (Tubby Smith) drew up a good play, the guys executed it, Travis (Busch) threw a good pass," Hoffarber said. "There's always a little luck."
As improbable as Hoffarber's game-winner was, it wasn't his first miraculous late-game make. As a sophomore at Hopkins (Minn.) High School three years ago, Hoffarber drew national attention when he made a shot while laying on his back with two seconds remaining in the state title game. Hoffarber's shot sent the game into overtime, and Hopkins eventually won the contest in double overtime.
This shot didn't win a Big Ten title, but it did move Minnesota (20-12) into the Big Ten semifinals against Illinois, and it kept the Gophers' NCAA Tournament hopes alive. It also handed an already fragile Indiana (25-7) team a crushing setback in a season that's been filled with turmoil during the last four weeks.
"That's a tough loss," Dakich said. "That's obvious – tell Noah about the Flood. That's a tough loss."
What made it even tougher was Indiana had managed to claw its way out of a 24-8 hole in the first half as well a five-point deficit in the final two minutes and seemingly position itself for an amazing win of its own.
After an Eric Gordon free-throw cut Minnesota's lead to 57-55 with 45 seconds remaining, D.J. White blocked a Dan Coleman attempt with 12 seconds left to seemingly give IU the final possession. After a timeout, Gordon drove to the rim and was fouled by Damian Johnson with three seconds left. But Gordon missed the first free-throw, seemingly robbing the Hoosiers of a chance for a win.
Not so fast. Gordon missed the second free-throw and White slipped inside for the offensive rebound and putback basket while being fouled by Jonathan Williams. White missed the free throw, but corralled the rebound and was fouled again. After missing a second straight attempt at an apparent game-winner, White connected on his final toss to give the Hoosiers a 58-57 lead.
But the Hoosiers' celebration was short-lived. Minnesota called a timeout to set up its last-second play, Indiana countered with a timeout of its own to set up its defense. But Indiana couldn't stop the Busch-to-Hoffarber connection that sent the Hoosiers stumbling into the NCAA Tournament.
"It went in, and I had to slap myself a few times to see if I was dreaming," said Minnesota's Lawrence McKenzie, who finished with 15.
While Hoffarber was the hero, he wasn't even supposed to take the game-winner. The plan was designed for him to be a decoy, with someone else getting a chance be the hero.
But when Hoffarber looked up and saw the ball heading in his direction, he took advantage of the opportunity.
"I was running off two screens and I saw the ball, and I went up and grabbed it and turned and tried to get it off on time," Hoffarber said.
While the officials reviewed the play afterwards, the shot was easily off in time and Indiana had suffered a loss that will be hard to shake off by the time the NCAA tourney arrives next week.
"Losses like this always hurt," said D.J. White, who led IU with 23 points, 13 rebounds and four blockss. "You never forget it, especially because we wanted to advance and win this whole tourney. But there's nothing we can do now. We just have to try to put it behind us and wait for Sunday and see what happens."
D. White 6-13 11-17 23, Taber 0-0 2-2 2, Bassett 1-9 3-4 6, Ellis 0-1 0-0 0, Gordon 4-13 8-12 16, Thomas 1-4 0-0 2, Crawford 4-9 1-2 9, Stemler 0-1 0-0 0, M. White 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-50 25-37 58.
Williams 0-3 3-4 3, Coleman 3-7 0-0, Johnson 6-11 4-4 17, McKenzie 4-9 4-4 15, Westbrook 2-10 2-2 7, Nolen 0-3, 2-2 2, Busch 1-4 0-0 2, Hoffarber 2-7 0-0 5, Abu-Shamala 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 19-56 15-16 59.
Hoffarber's Heroics Sink Hoosiers
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