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Senior Day Showcased the Best of Gopher Basketball

Minnesota handled Nebraska 88-73 on Senior Night at Williams Arena. Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy were once again the stars but the night belonged to Akeem Springs and Darin Haugh.

“Akeem and Darin, to send them off with a win was great,” Richard Pitino said. “Akeem was hurt unfortunately, with his back, so he wasn’t 100 percent.

“Darin says to me after the game ‘I never thought you would run a double-high ball screen for me in the course of a game.’ I said neither did I.

“Those two guys have been just terrific. Darin, that was a highlight of my coaching career, to put him on scholarship to keep him. Then, Akeem was a terrific addition. He has changed our locker room.”

It’s become very clear that Springs has been a major difference in the team’s culture.  Nate Mason believes Springs is the biggest difference.

"Akeem was a great addition, coming into the season he came in with the confidence and being talkative, so that was great to see,” Mason said.   “It helped me and Murph become better leaders in general.

“Seeing him and how hard he works and how hard he pushes the guys, it forced us to be talkative and get out of our comfort zones. He is one of the best leaders I have ever been around."

This is a team that came into the year receiving no national or Big Ten respect after an 8-win season of course, but little respect from their own fans.  The team banned together to believe in one another forming a chemistry.

“Those guys sat there and they took it and they owned up to it,” Pitino said about last year.  “They said we believe where we are going. We believe we that we can turn it around.

“I remember kind of talking about it earlier, I’m not a boastful guy about that stuff, but in the offseason it was mocked a little but we sat there and had a quiet confidence about where we are going.

“These guys deserve the credit for bringing this program back, getting these people excited about this team again.”

What has really changed about this team is the mindset and the toughness they play with.

“The wins have been really good,” Pitino said.  “I will say their chemistry is really evolving. They really do like being around each other. I think everybody can see it. They really like playing with each other and they’re committed to getting better.  Their mentality has really been a positive.”

"We are just clicking right now, luckily we started clicking in February and March,” Mason said.  “That comes a lot from practice and repetition and learning how others play."

Minnesota’s chemistry and toughness is obvious to Nebraska Coach Tim Miles who spoke very highly of what Minnesota has become.

“Richard Pitino has done a great job with his team,” Miles said. “Last year they were at the depths of all depths and kept Nate, Jordan, and Dupree McBrayer, and all those guys going.

“It's a well put together team, which can make runs in any tournament because they got length, athleticism inside, which makes it very hard to score on.”

Murphy had yet another double-double (20 points and 11 rebounds) giving him six in the last seven games played.  Jordan’s season started solid with 21 rebounds against Michigan State, he had a tough seven game stretch, and then has been fabulous ever since.

"I just had to figure out what my identity was on the team and I think that came with rebounding, I'm a pretty good rebounder,” Jordan stated.  “That gets the whole game going for me, when I get a couple offensive or defensive, it just gets everything rolling.

"I think I was fighting my role a little bit (earlier in the year), coach told me I was going to be a lot happier if I focus on things that I am good at. Once I did, he was right, I'm a lot happier."

With an 11-6 record in the Big Ten and a 23-7 mark overall Minnesota heads to Wisconsin Sunday for the regular season final game.  

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