Thursday, February 25, 2010

Once Again, Gopher Hoops Cannot Close

The Gopher basketball team was presented with a golden opportunity to pick up a signature win on Wednesday night at home against #3 Purdue. The Gophs held a nine-point lead with just under 10 minutes remaining, but Purdue ended up walking away with the victory, 59-58

After a lackluster first half which saw the Gophers shoot 29% and trail the Boilermakers by seven points, Minnesota came out with a vengeance in the second half, scoring the half's first 12 points and gaining the lead and the momentum. With Purdue star Robbie Hummel on the bench with a leg injury, the Boilers' prospects did not look good. Add to that, Ralph Sampson III was in the midst of a career game and the Gophers looked like they may blow Purdue out of the gym.

However, Purdue rallied to pull within one point and got a stop of Minnesota with less than a minute remaining with Colton Iverson's put-back was out-of-control. The Boilers rushed the floor on a fast break and scored the lay-up to give them a one-point lead with 40 seconds left. Minny set its offense and Lawrence Westbrook could not pass up a good look, draining a 14-footer to put the Gophers back on top with 25 seconds remaining. However, Keaton Grant hit from 19 feet with 8 seconds left to give Purdue a 59-58 lead.

After a Gopher time out (called by coach Tubby Smith a fraction of a second before Devoe Joseph drained a jumper, of course), the Gophers ran a play for Joseph, but his side jumper was too strong, and Damian Johnson's put back - although good - did not count because it came after the final buzzer, and the Boilermakers escaped. Editorial note - Joseph is good, but why did Westbrook not get the last look? He has a history of draining big shots. Better yet, why did they call time out before the final play? They way things are going, the coaches should have just let the play go on without a time out - and I'm not saying that because Joseph ended up draining the shot after Smith's time out signal.

Oh, the Gophers had plenty of chances, including:
  • Sampson's career night (21 points, 7 rebounds)
  • Purdue went nearly 10 scoreless minutes, spanning the final 4:48 of the first half and 5:30 of the second half
  • During that time, the Gophers out-scored Purdue 19-0
  • With Hummel on the bench, Purdue's jump-shooting was severely curtailed
However, like the Michigan State game earlier this season, which saw the Gophers kick away a 13-point lead in the second half, Minnesota came up short, and severely damaged its flickering NCAA Tournament hopes.

The Gophers are 16-11 and 7-8 in Big Ten play. A signature win over Purdue would have helped immensely for a team running out of games. Now, the team heads to Illinois to play the Illini on Saturday afternoon and closes out the season with a road game at Michigan and a home game against Iowa. Gone are the chances for a signature regular season victory and the pressure mounts for the team to be forced to win the Big Ten Tournament to have a shot at the big dance.

The Gophers should have been able to close things out on Wednesday and now their NCAA Tournament hopes are on life support - if they weren't already.

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