One. Grinding out a win.
This was far from perfect. Minnesota shot poorly from the floor, was out-rebounded because they gave up too many offensive rebounds, and Reggie Lynch fouled out again so they had trouble stopping Thomas Bryant late.
But this is a different Minnesota team. Akeem Springs said in the postgame that Coach Richard Pitino called a set, he was to catch and then see Nate Mason coming to him on the curl but Springs didn’t have the passing angle so he dribbled left and attempted a tough shot. It missed but Springs moved around a bad box-out effort from James Blackmon to put back the game winner.
There were other gutty plays. Like the Eric Curry help over block and Eric’s fight around the post to get a key steal late in the game. Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason each made late foul shots. Amir Coffey once again had clutch scores down the stretch.
This is the type of game that good teams win. No they weren’t at their best but in the end they fought just hard enough to get the victory.
Two. Amir Coffey’s second half.
At the half Amir Coffey had posted a doughnut. Zero points. By the end of the game Amir had 17 points and seven rebounds including two late game clutch scores. The freshman continues to improve as a three-point shooter making two of three (Amir has now improved to make over a third of his threes on the season after starting in the low 20th percentile) and his late game finish from Nate Mason was one of the games biggest scores.
Amir plays with a calmness that most freshman do not have. He finds ways to contribute. No assists for Coffey today but he did collect seven boards. No scores in half one but he used his length edge of four inches to score over shorter Indiana guards. Every night he finds a way to give his team an edge.
Three. Murphy & Mason.
The duo will be linked all year. Coach Pitino said they are his All Big Ten caliber players at the start of the season and right now they are playing like it. When the dup struggled Minnesota lost five straight. When they started finding a grove Minnesota is closing in on the NCAA Tournament and their 20th win.
Nate Mason scored 30 points on 8 of 19 shooting plus 11 of 12 foul shooting. He is nearly automatic at the stripe. Late in the game his pass to Coffey followed by a three brought Minnesota back from three scores down and gave The Barn life. The Hoosiers simply could not keep him in front and had the most trouble stopping his push in transition.
Jordan Murphy put together a third straight double-double of 14 points and 15 rebounds and more importantly made clutch foul shots down the stretch. In 33 minutes time he’s defending smarter as his foul numbers are way down. Murphy is playing a more mature brand of team defense and his efforts to board and move off the ball to score are a big reason this team has won four in a row.
Indiana had 20 offensive rebounds. Twenty! Reggie Lynch had box-out hit problems. Bakary Konate had the same issues twice on the same play. Amir Coffey has dealt with the problem all season long. Pretty much the Gophers as a team almost let this game get away because they are not making strong box-out hits to stop the opponent momentum. The Hoosiers had 22 second chance points out of their 74.
Five. Two More Wins (at least)!
We are not putting a limit on what should happen the next five games of the regular season, but we are focused on that 9-9 Big Ten mark. Some say 8-10 will do it but that would meaning losing four of the next five which would include bad losses. The team needs to get two more, and then keep going to build momentum for the Big Ten Tournament and then the NCAA Tournament.
The next game is against beatable Michigan at home followed by a road game at Maryland and home games against Penn State and Nebraska. The way this Minnesota team is playing right now they should be able to get two more wins and when you include that season finish in Madison, three of the last five is doable.
The record is 19-7. Did Minnesota have box-out woes? Sure. Did Akeem Springs, Dupree McBrayer, Nate Mason, and the power forwards take some shots that had you screaming? Yes they did. Dupree continues to struggle since going to the bench (0-4 fg tonight) and Springs shot a rare 2 of 13 overall.
Do our fans continually want double-teams in the post? Yes they do although they need to understand the time commitment in practice to doing that. Time in practice is limited by the NCAAs and the team is defending pretty good overall. Do you want to keep working on your solid defense or do you want to spend time working on the positioning and rotations of what double-teaming entails at this level with special rules with high caliber players all over the floor?
But the bottom line is, Minnesota has a minimal of seven more games to play this season and right now they are 19-7. That is the single best turnaround in college basketball. Enjoy it Gopher fans!