Feb 26, 2013, 10:06 PM EST
Minnesota saved their season on Tuesday night, as the team that everyone had left for dead knocked off No. 1 Indiana at home, 77-73.
And the credit for the win should fall squarely on the shoulders of senior big man Trevor Mbakwe.
Mbakwe finished with 21 points and 12 boards, six of which came on the offensive end of the floor, but the real difference that he made — when Mbakwe won the game for the Gophers — was in the first 6:05.
First, he grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a putback. Then he hit a jumper, and followed that up with a dunk on the next possession. After a pair of buckets from Rodney Williams, Mbakwe grabbed another offensive rebound and was fouled, hitting both free throws. Then, on the ensuing possession, he grabbed his third offensive rebound of the game, finishing another layup inside.
Finally, at the other end of the floor, Mbakwe came out of nowhere to block a Cody Zeller dunk at the rim.
Reading through those last three paragraphs doesn’t sound like much, but Mbakwe completely set the tone for the game. He whipped the crowd into a frenzy, he got his teammates fired up and into the game, and he sent Cody Zeller — who played one of his worst games of the season — backpedaling.
That matters because, entering Tuesday night, Minnesota looked like a team that had already resigned themselves to their NIT fate.
They were coming off of a stretch of eight losses in their last 11 games. They had just been taken behind the woodshed by both Iowa and Ohio State in the last seven days, losing those two games by a combined 47 points. They had no confidence. They were indecisive. There was no effort. I don’t think that it is fair to say that Minnesota was apathetic about the rest of the season, but it is fair to say that they played that way.
It looked like a lost cause.
Until Mbakwe came out and took over, and the rest of his team followed suit. The Gophers, as a team, simply manhandled Indiana in the paint, dominating the offensive glass and coming up with seemingly every loose ball. For the first time in two months, Minnesota actually won the battle of wills; they simply wanted it more than the Hoosiers.
That doesn’t happen if Mbakwe doesn’t start the game in the way that he did. That doesn’t happen if he doesn’t get his teammates fired up and get them motivated. That doesn’t happen if the crowd isn’t into the game from the start.
Think about it like this: Minnesota beat the No. 1 team in the country despite shooting 4-20 from three on what were, more often than not, open looks.
At the end of the day, what this Gopher team was missing was leadership.
On Tuesday night, Mbakwe provided just that.
And with Penn State, Nebraska and Purdue left on the schedule, there’s no reason that Minnesota (19-9, 7-8) can’t get to 10 league wins and head into the Big Ten tournament on a four-game winning streak.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Jan 26, 2015, 11:45 PM EST
North Carolina and Iowa State earned conference home wins on Monday night.
Jan 26, 2015, 11:22 PM EST
Iowa State bounced back from a loss against Texas Tech with a big home win over Texas.
Jan 26, 2015, 10:00 PM EST
UCLA should get a boost in practice with the addition of a four-star freshman forward to its roster.
Jan 26, 2015, 9:00 PM EST
BYU might be without a key frontcourt piece for the rest of the season.
Jan 26, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
The son of a former NBA veteran is moving on to a CAA program from Wake Forest.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:54 PM EST
Washington loses one of the most talented shot blockers in the nation.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:16 PM EST
DePaul may have to reschedule their trip to Providence.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:00 PM EST
Not a lot going on Monday night, but still some great games to check out.
Jan 26, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Maryland grabs an impact point guard in the 2016 class.
Jan 26, 2015, 3:52 PM EST
Johnson landed awkwardly against Ohio State and may have to miss some time.
Jan 26, 2015, 2:03 PM EST
Don’t be surprised if there is only one unbeaten left by this time next week.
Jan 26, 2015, 12:49 PM EST
A recap of the nine craziest finishes from your college hoops weekend.
Jan 26, 2015, 10:28 AM EST
Frankamp spent a little more than a year at Kansas before transferring.
Jan 26, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
The best players and most impressive teams from the last week of college hoops.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:54 AM EST
We have a new member in our Top Ten.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:35 PM EST
Northwestern has lost its last three games by a total of five points.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:36 PM EST
Lucas Siewert joins small forward Brendan Bailey as Arizona State’s second four-star verbal commitment in the 2016 class.
Jan 25, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Eight days after attempting 25 three-pointers in their loss to No. 5 Duke, the Cardinals attempted just 12 and scored 40 points in the paint against Pittsburgh.
Three-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining completes second-half rally for No. 20 Northern Iowa (VIDEO)
Jan 25, 2015, 6:24 PM EST
UNI erased a 12-point second half deficit to win at Illinois State, and they remain a game behind No. 14 Wichita State in the Missouri Valley standings.
Jan 25, 2015, 5:38 PM EST
Chris Perry leads the Bulls in rebounding, and chest pains suffered during the team’s workout Saturday resulted in his having to be hospitalized.
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