“We use the term winning plays,” Richard Pitino said in his post game press conference. “Eric Curry made a bunch of them at the end. He had that steal on the right side on there by the baseline.
“Jordan Murphy made winning plays, making two free throws. He told me he was shaking. To do that and then Eric defensively, doing a lot of great things. Then Akeem Springs at the end, following his own shot. Eric keeping it alive, making it a winning play, that’s what good teams do.”
The last play did not go as the team had planned. Amir Coffey was supposed to come off a screen and get the ball but it wasn’t there. Option two was Nate Mason curling off the screen, again that was well defended. So Springs improvised.
Akeem dribbled left and took a tough contested three missing his 11 shot in 12 attempts. It missed. But the ball was tapped by Curry and Springs got free of James Blackmon Jr so he collected the ball and made the game winner.
“Indiana scores, coach calls the play out, when I got the ball I’m thinking, ‘Where’s Nate? I couldn’t find him.’ So I took a shot and thought, ‘Oh god, I missed.’ But I chased it down and I don’t know how I finished,” Akeem said.
“It felt good. It felt good to help out my guys they were battling all game and I didn’t feel like I was helping them. It felt good to contribute after a tough game.”
Springs missed all six of his three-point attempts and shot 2 of 13 for the game, but the biggest make won the game.
This week the Big Ten Network named Nate Mason one of the Big Ten’s ten best players and last night he showed why. With fellow guard teammates struggling (Springs and Dupree McBrayer) Mason took more off the offensive load on his shoulders.
The four assists were there but the 30 points on 11 of 12 free throw shooting, three three-point makes, and 8 of 19 shooting overall led the way.
“Nate Mason was as good as it gets,” Pitino said. “He was playing with unbelievable confidence. Especially in that first half, he was unstoppable. He saved us because our offense was not clicking.”
“We knew what we had at stake coming up in this game,” Mason said. “We just wanted to give it all. We started off horrible with nine turnovers in the first half. We came back in the second half to which says a lot about our team and Akeem to take the shot that he did.”
Another important factor was power forward Jordan Murphy and his third straight double-double. Murphy had 14 points and 15 boards in 33 minutes. He also made two very important foul shots down the stretch.
“I was trying to battle,” Jordan stated. “I know that (Indiana has) some really talented bigs and some good rebounding bigs so I battled the best way I could. Throughout the foul trouble we had with our bigs we just have to keep battling and working for the rebound.”
Minnesota lost the rebounding battle 51-44 giving up 20 offensive boards, but towards the end of the game Minnesota has just a little more fight than the Hoosiers.
What Minnesota did on Wednesday night was show toughness, and prove that they can make game winning plays.
“This game speaks to us being a good team,” said Springs. “Good teams find a way to push through when one of your three-point shooters doesn’t make a three.
“It just speaks to us being a good team when you’ve got a Nate Mason who is the best guard in our conference and go off and just have 30 for our team in the win."
Minnesota improved to 19-7 on the year and they go for win number 20 Sunday night at Williams Arena against Michigan. The last time Minnesota was playing for win 20 this early in the season was 2008-09, Tubby Smith’s second year as Gopher Head Coach.
Michigan is 6-6 in league play with a 16-9 record overall. With a win against Wisconsin tonight they will be in a tie with Minnesota for sixth place in the league.