This Minnesota vs. Washington game recap can also be found on Minnesota's SB nation counterpart, Daily Gopher. Gopher Nation was kind enough to give me their space for a few hours. But don't worry, I'm back for good - the Midwest just didn't feel like home.
It took an extra frame, but the Minnesota Golden Gophers are moving on to the NIT finals.
Minnesota defeated the Washington Huskies, 68-67, in overtime on Tuesday in the second of two NIT semifinal games at Madison Square Garden. Washington threatened to stun Tubby Smith's Gophers with a late surge, but were ultimately unable to overcome a poor shooting performance.
A Joe Coleman turnover in the final seconds of regulation gave Washington's C.J. Wilcox an easy lay-in, which tied the game at 61. The lead that the Gophers had held onto all night vanished with the blink of an eye.
"Joe caught the ball and shoveled it to me, and it came a little fast," said Andre Hollins afterwards. "I should have caught it. We had to gut it out in overtime."
The Big Ten representative outscored the Pac-12's Huskies, 7-6, in the additional five minutes. They survive and advance into the championship game on Thursday.
Hollins (20 points) and Rodney Williams (18 points) paced the Gophers in their victorious effort. Washington forward Terrence Ross contributed 21 points as just one of three Huskies in double figures in the loss.
More, below the fold.
The story of the game can basically be wound down to one simple statistic. Washington was clearly incapable of gaining comfort on the offensive end, as they shot a 37% from the field and 31% behind the arc.
Minnesota scored the first basket of the game and, from that point, Washington was never able to get a lead. The Gopher's seemed to control the game's tempo throughout, keeping the pace slow except off forced turnovers. The Huskies play at their best when the pace is quick.
As GopherNation pointed out in his pregame concerns, the Gophers needed to stay out of serious foul trouble and compete on the boards to win. Rodney Williams played the majority of the second half with four fouls, but was able to stay in until the final buzzer.
"I didn't change anything about the way I was playing [after obtaining a fourth foul]," mentioned Williams after the game. "It was important for my team that I stayed aggressive."
Minnesota was out-rebounding the Huskies for most of the game, but Washington ended with a rebounding advantage of three - mostly because of a series of offensive rebounds in the final minutes of regulation.
Tubby Smith's young team had trouble closing out games throughout the entire Big Ten season. Those same struggles returned on Tuesday night after the Gopher's relinquished a 12-point halftime lead, but were finally overcome.
"It's been an up-and-down season. I'm just proud of our perseverance and our ability to overcome so many distractions," Smith mentioned. "There's no room for mistakes in the Big Ten. We have to close games out, and we weren't doing that."
Andre Hollins is just a freshman, but led his team as if he was a senior in this NIT semifinal. Even when things looked bleak after the conclusion of regulation, the young guard refused to let his team fall. It was his fade-away, bank shot from just off the right block that extended Minnesota's overtime lead to three, and proved to be the game's winning basket.
"He's a freshman. It's a matter of maturing and trusting the system," said Smith. "[Andre] was starting at the beginning of the year, but now he is coming to understand his role."
For many, this March push by Minnesota may come as a surprise after an inconsistent season. But there is no doubting that this NIT run will have a positive impact on the team going forward.
"It's huge. It'll be momentum and a boost of confidence going into next year," Hollins remarked. "It's a great experience for us younger guys and a nice accolade for the older guys."