“I am proud of these guys,” Pitino said. “To do it with Nate Mason not playing offensively his best game, and Eric Curry hurt.
“Eric really gutted it out, we didn’t think he was going to play. He told me before the game, I think his teammates got to him because he told me ‘I’m going to play. I’m going to play’. He really stuck it out and gutted it out, gave us 12 good minutes (had three boards, three assists, and two blocks).
“I think we showed our depth and that’s what I really liked. Akeem Springs was terrific; Amir Coffey was absolutely fantastic. Overall it was a great team win, proud to be sitting 15-2, we obviously have to move on and prepare for Michigan State.”
Springs came off the bench and knocked down five three pointers plus had a fantastic day passing the basketball for his 18 points and five assists in 27 minutes.
“Akeem hit big threes obviously but he also got five assists and one turnover,” Pitino said. “That pass at the end was really good, he hit the three to put it to nine (late in the game when he nailed the shot up against the shot clock buzzer). He made big plays.
“Akeem is fearless, he’s tough, he plays good defense, makes good shots. That’s what good teams do. Like last game we were at Northwestern and Reggie Lynch steps up and makes good plays. At Purdue Nate steps up and scores 30. We have got pretty good depth, we have to get Eric healthy, but overall a tremendous win.”
Everything about the Gophers right now is balance and versatility. When one player struggles another is stepping up in his place. If a player has an off night from the floor another play picks up the slack. As a group the team is playing better every day.
This Gopher team has had a lot to prove. A lot to prove to the country, a lot to prove to themselves, and a lot to prove to the fans at home. The local fans have been a motivator in many ways.
“Last year we obviously did not have a good year,” Pitino said. “We obviously had some issues off the court. We took ownership from them and we got better from it. We didn’t point fingers and say ‘It’s his fault’. It was our fault, it’s on me, but we got better from it.
“We did not sit there and say ‘No everything is fine’. But I will say, we had to take it from a lot of people, we had to band together and get closer because of it. And I am not saying that the criticism was wrong, rightfully so, that’s what happens when you lose games. But with that being said we had to sit there and we had to take it.
“We are not a boastful program so we just want our talking to be done on the court. What’s exciting is every game we have earned the respect back from our awesome fans. We have earned the respect back just by playing the right way.
“We have not arrived, not even close to arrived, but I think our fans appreciate the way that we play. I am extremely proud of our guys. I think they have taken great ownership.”
Amir Coffey was a senior at Hopkins last year when the program was having a tough season. He heard it from all angles but Coffey stuck with Minnesota and everything is paying off.
"It feels good,” Coffey said about how things are going. “Based on the year we're having so far, it just feels good. We put a lot of work in during the offseason, and added some new pieces. We've been working hard, so to see a packed house and a lot of fans coming to watch us play feels good."
Coffey played 34 minutes and led the team in scoring (19) and in assists (5). He made 7 of 11 field goals must of what were attacking an Ohio State defense that wasn’t able to rotate to his attack. Amir and his teammates are now as confident as ever.
"We dropped one against Michigan State, but after that we had to pick our selves back up. The wins at Purdue and Northwestern really got our confidence up. I think that's good for us."
Buckeye coach Thad Matta felt one of the biggest differences in the game was Minnesota’s shot blocking. The Gophers swatted a dozen Buckeye attempts led by the four from Bakary Konate.
“Shot blocking,” Matta said. “They had 12 of them. I think they got a great guard. Mason is so good because he can get two guys to commit to the ball and obviously when Akeem was making shots.
“That's a heck of a weapon, but their big kid (Lynch) started scoring in there and got the best of us to start the game. We weren’t as active as we needed to be defensively.”
Today the Gophers find out where they will be ranked in the new college basketball top 25 polls which will be a nice honor for the season they’ve had.
"It would mean a ton,” Akeem said about being ranked. “When you're at a mid-major (Springs played at Wisconsin-Milwaukee), you're not going to be in the top 25 unless you go undefeated the whole year. It's an accomplishment and it just speaks to all of our hard work.
“I think that's more important than anything; it just speaks to how hard we're working. If you read some of the stuff people said about us before the season started, it's just showing that this is a positive step. The sky is the limit for us."
Next up is the Wednesday rematch with Michigan State. The Gophers are in East Lansing for a 6pm tip off. The last time they played Minnesota lost the Big Ten opener in overtime after holding a 14 point lead.
The Spartans are now 11-6 and coming off a loss to Penn State. The Lions forced Michigan State into 17 turnovers, won the rebounding battle 38-28, and held Miles Bridges to four points.
The previous game against the Gophers Michigan State didn’t have Bridges but they got 22 points and ten rebounds from Nick Ward (Lynch fouled out in 11 minutes) and a career game from Alvin Ellis who scored 20 points making three treys. It was one of two double figure games for Ellis this season.