MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Trevor Mbakwe had 11 points and tied career highs with 16 rebounds and five blocks to lead Minnesota to a 67-63 victory over Indiana on Tuesday night, the Golden Gophers’ first Big Ten victory of the season.
Rodney Williams scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half to help the Gophers (12-3, 1-2) rally from nine points down. Al Nolen added 14 points, six rebounds and four steals to help them hang on for the win.
Verdell Jones III scored 13 points for the Hoosiers (9-7, 0-3), including a 3-pointer with 7.2 seconds to go that made the score 65-63.
But Blake Hoffarber closed out the game at the free throw line after a near-steal by Indiana to hand the Hoosiers their fifth straight loss.
The Hoosiers are fading after a 6-0 start against a soft schedule, but they went down fighting at the Barn.
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Indiana’s 15-0 run late in the first half helped forge a six-point lead at the break, and the Hoosiers led 51-49 with 8:30 to play. But they went scoreless for nearly eight of the final 20 minutes of the game in two separate 10-0 runs by Minnesota to let the game slip away.
Williams scored eight of Minnesota’s 10 points during the Gophers’ initial run and Mbakwe blocked three shots, including an emphatic block of a dunk attempt by Bobby Capobianco, to take a 40-38 lead.
The Hoosiers hung around for the next five minutes or so until the Gophers surged again. Williams capped their second 10-0 run of the half with an incredible dunk over two defenders, giving Minnesota a 59-51 lead with just over five minutes to play.
It was a much-needed victory for the Gophers, who opened the Big Ten schedule with losses at Wisconsin and Michigan State. It’s still early, but a loss to the struggling Hoosiers at home would have been disastrous.
The Gophers played without arguably their most versatile offensive player in Devoe Joseph. Coach Tubby Smith announced Monday that Joseph had been suspended for off-the-court issues, and there were several reports Tuesday that Joseph planned to transfer.
Indiana had no answer for Mbakwe on the low block early, with the burly power forward scoring seven points and grabbing five boards in the first 3 1/2 minutes. But he has struggled with foul trouble this season, and Smith sent him to the bench to keep him fresh and avoid picking up cheap fouls.
The Gophers took a 23-17 lead with five minutes to go in the first half, but they managed just three points the rest of the way. Indiana responded with its 15-0 run, and Minnesota again was stagnant in the half-court offensively, a problem that has plagued them throughout Smith’s tenure.
Hoffarber scored 16 points for Minnesota. Maurice Creek added 12 points and five boards for Indiana.
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