Feb 26, 2013, 10:06 PM EDT
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.
Jul 4, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Kansas won its debut overseas this summer as Wayne Selden had a big outing.
Jul 4, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT
UConn landed a quality guard in the Class of 2016.
Jul 4, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Given Oregon’s many perimeter options, minutes were likely to be at a premium for Rorie in 2015-16.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
The top four players remain the same.
Jul 3, 2015, 9:19 PM EDT
The redshirt junior has not played since January 2014.
Jul 3, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
The rising sophomore was originally being blocked from transferring to 55 schools.
Jul 3, 2015, 6:08 PM EDT
Ohio State begins its 2017 class with a local product.
Jul 3, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Jalen Brunson led USA Basketball with 17 points.
Jul 3, 2015, 2:10 PM EDT
A lot of unranked players made their way into the top five in a surprisingly deep class.
Jul 3, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT
Jalen Brunson led four Americans in double figures with 17 points.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Minnesota is one of four schools the 6-foot-10 center is reportedly considering.
Jul 3, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
The lone school to host the Georgia native on an official visit is considered to be the favorite in this recruiting race.
Jul 2, 2015, 7:40 PM EDT
Oregon still has a date to fill (December 29), which the school expects to be filled by an in-state opponent.
Jul 2, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
This is nasty.
Jul 2, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
The Class of 2007 produced some very good players, including one who’s an NBA MVP and others who have developed into perennial all-stars.
Jul 2, 2015, 2:53 PM EDT
I’m a big fan of these, particularly the dark grey ones.
Jul 2, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT
Cell phone addiction is a national crisis.
Jul 2, 2015, 12:17 PM EDT
Can anyone guess what that moment is?
Jul 2, 2015, 10:09 AM EDT
This is something else.
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