BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Minnesota had lost four straight, was on the road against the nation’s No. 7 team and had lost star forward Trevor Mbakwe to an ACL injury more than a month earlier.
Coming into Assembly Hall, where the Hoosiers had won their first 11 games, including over then-No. 1 Kentucky and then-No. 2 Ohio State, the Golden Gophers seemed to have almost no chance.
Austin Hollins scored a career-high 18 points to help the Golden Gophers beat the Hoosiers 77-74 on Thursday night.
“It’s a big win,” Minnesota guard Joe Coleman said. “We really had nothing to lose here. We just had to come in here and be aggressive, be confident in our play and hopefully come out with a win, and we were able to do that.”
Indiana’s Christian Watford missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds that would have tied it.
Minnesota had been close in three of its four Big Ten losses. The Gophers lost in overtime at Illinois, by five at Michigan and by two at home against Iowa.
They finally got one.
“We’ve been through some tough games, so I think that helped us,” Coleman said. “Basically, all our Big Ten games so far have been pretty close, down to the wire at some point, so I think we were able to capitalize on the things we messed up on in the previous games, and it helped it out for tonight.”
Rodney Williams scored 14 points and Julian Welch added 10 for the Golden Gophers (13-5, 1-4 Big Ten).
Indiana freshman Cody Zeller matched a season high with 23 points for the Hoosiers (15-2, 3-2), but his teammates struggled. Jordan Hulls scored 13, Will Sheehey 12 and Victor Oladipo 10 for Indiana.
“I was really impressed with Cody Zeller,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. “He’s a very tough matchup for us. We had all kinds of trouble guarding him. Otherwise, we did a good job on most of the other guys.”
Minnesota shot 6 of 13 on 3-pointers in the first half to take the lead, then maintained it by scoring in the paint and grabbing 12 offensive rebounds in the second half. On many of the offensive boards, Minnesota reset its offense and ran time off the clock, sucking momentum out of Indiana’s rally.
“That’s deflating for them to have that many offensive rebounds,” Zeller said. “We just need to do the little things. That’s all toughness.”
Now, instead of cruising into Sunday’s rematch with Ohio State, the Hoosiers have revived Minnesota’s season.
“Tonight, we caught Indiana on a tough shooting night, but we did what we had to do to get the win, so we hopefully can build on this and use this to continue to improve,” Smith said.
Even though Indiana didn’t play its best game, the Hoosiers still had a chance. Minnesota had a six-point lead and the ball in the final minute, but Zeller stole the inbounds pass, and a three-point play by Oladipo cut Minnesota’s lead to 71-68 with 40 seconds to play.
Coleman calmly sank two free throws with 39 seconds remaining before Sheehey drained a 3-pointer at the other end to cut Minnesota’s lead to 73-71 with 30 seconds left.
Coleman was fouled with 28.6 seconds left, and again, he made both foul shots.
Zeller scored and was fouled with 17.3 seconds left. His free throw cut Minnesota’s lead to 75-74.
Minnesota’s Ryan Hollins made a pair of free throws with 15.1 seconds left, giving the Gophers an important cushion.
“I was just thinking, ‘I don’t want to lose this game,'” he said. “We came in here, we worked this hard all game, we’ve been playing great all game. I just went in there, took a deep breath and tried to knock them down. I knew I could hit those free throws, so I went in there with confidence.”
Watford missed a 3-pointer and Minnesota rebounded. Welch missed a pair of free throws with 2 seconds left to give the Hoosiers one last shot. Watford’s pass was intercepted by Maverick Ahanmisi at halfcourt, and time expired.
“They were chipping away, they tried to put the pressure on us, but since they were still down, the pressure was still on them,” Hollins said. “It was just a matter of us keeping our composure, aggressiveness and intensity.”
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