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.
Apr 19, 2014, 1:25 PM EDT
Gonzaga will have a very tough non-conference slate during the 2014-15 season.
Apr 19, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT
Two-and-through sounds more and more likely to happen.
Apr 19, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
Former Marquette commits Ahmed Hill and Satchel Pierce are following former Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams to Virginia Tech as the duo committed to the Hokies on Saturday morning.
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Apr 19, 2014, 10:03 AM EDT
SMU commit Emmanuel Mudiay put down the best dunk at the Jordan Brand Classic.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Northern Illinois extended the contract of head coach Mark Montgomery through the 2017-18 season.
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Apr 18, 2014, 9:39 PM EDT
Chicago natives Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander earned MVP honors as the East beat the West in the Jordan Brand Classic.
Apr 18, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
Houston is allowing Danuel House and TaShawn Thomas to transfer, but only to certain programs.
Apr 18, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT
Indiana grabbed a commitment from a 2014 center on Friday night.
Apr 18, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT
Miami forward James Kelly is moving on.
Apr 18, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT
It was a busy day for the Butler Bulldogs on Friday as freshman guard Elijah Brown intends to transfer while former Indiana wing Austin Etherington will transfer to the Big East program.
Apr 18, 2014, 5:05 PM EDT
Ole Miss picked up a big graduate transfer on Friday when former Tennessee State forward M.J. Rhett signed with the Rebels.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:44 PM EDT
St. John’s received some big news this week as sophomore center Chris Obekpa decided to stay in New York.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:26 PM EDT
Kentucky freshman forward Marcus Lee will return to Lexington for his sophomore season.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT
After leading Georgia State to 25 wins and a Sun Belt regular season title, Ron Hunter has been rewarded with a contract extension.
Apr 18, 2014, 3:46 PM EDT
With Steve Wojciechowski accepting the head coaching position at Marquette, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski announced how he would account for that departure Friday.
Apr 18, 2014, 2:49 PM EDT
Tulsa has officially hired Frank Haith to be its new basketball coach.
Apr 18, 2014, 1:39 PM EDT
Arizona State announced Friday that guard Shaquielle McKissic has been granted an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA.
Apr 18, 2014, 1:03 PM EDT
Duke’s Rodney Hood made the news official Friday, announcing that he’ll be entering the 2014 NBA Draft.
Apr 18, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT
Family and friends of Lacey Holsworth gathered at the Breslin Center to celebrate her life on Thursday.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Kansas will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the DeBruce Center on May 2nd.
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