Sam Ekstrom is on the ground in Des Moines. Follow along as the Minnesota Golden Gophers look for the tournament upset against the Louisville Cardinals.
Seems a little early for a basketball game — Richard Pitino said he prefers the mid-afternoon slot — but here we are. Gophers tip off against Louisville in about 40 minutes at Wells Fargo Arena. All signs point toward Matz Stockman being out, which leaves them without a reliable backup big man. He was a critical piece in both of Minnesota’s biggest late-season wins against Purdue, but without him the Gophers will again have to turn to Jarvis Omersa off the bench, who doesn’t bring much post-up prowess to the table.
Amir Coffey is the key today. He has conquered the passiveness that seemed to get the best of him earlier in the season. The question is: Will he be aggressive AND efficient? Coffey is averaging 23.8 points per game since the Gophers dropped to 7-10 in the Big Ten and were genuinely on the bubble three games before the end of the Big Ten season. Coffey carried the team to a 4-2 record over the next six while shooting 52 percent. But he’s also had some cold spells, like the first half against Penn State and Michigan. Gophers need Coffey to be his best self early against Louisville.
Late-arriving crowd so far, but that’s to be expected. Michigan State fans should fill the place in near capacity by the second half. I’d say Minnesota fans also have Louisville fans outnumbered. That 3.5-hour drive wasn’t too shabby (but smelled bad).
Tip-off. Gophers looking for their first tourney win under Richard Pitino. Last one came in 2013 against sixth-seeded UCLA.
The ugly Gophers offense has shown up early on. Two possessions where they drained the shot clock and forced tough 3s, and another with a turnover. Seems like some nerves.
Lots of basketball gets played before the first media timeout. With 14:09 to go in the first the Gophers lead 8-7. Both teams are 1 of 5 from outside. That’s Louisville’s game, but it’s not the Gophers’. They should be attacking the rim, where they’ve earned almost all their points. Jordan Murphy with an early four points, and the officials haven’t called a foul on Minnesota. Without Stockman in the rotation, I think Minnesota should be OK with a low-whistle type of game, even though they thrive on drawing fouls. The less they have to go to the bench, the better.
If either of these teams had come out shooting well they’d have a double-digit lead. Both teams now 1 of 7 from beyond the arc, and the Gophers have gotten some great looks off offensive rebounds. Remember, Louisville shoots a million 3s a game (actually, 25), so it’s only a matter of time before they hit a few. Gophers need to build a lead while they’re cold.
Not great minutes for Jarvis Omersa in his first relief of Oturu as he picks up two fouls. Nor Michael Hurt, who picks up an immediately shooting foul upon entry. Gophers could use bench support of any kind today, but it’s gotten increasingly more unlikely the way the reserves have played. Maybe Brock Stull can provide a boost?
This looks like a modern NBA game. Threes everywhere! Gophers are being uncharacteristically persistent shooting them, but it finally pays off as McBrayer drains one on his fourth attempt and Coffey comes down and drains another from the right wing. 21-17 Minnesota with 6:28 left in the first half. We’re seeing that Louisville has very few players that can win in a traditional post-up situation. Gophers are fine trying to keep them outside and, thus far, they’ve solved their offensive rebounding problem; all even at 5-5 in that category.
Eight different players have taken a shot for Louisville. They trail 33-31 but are on a 5-0 run with 1:18 left before halftime. Only the starters have scored for Minnesota. Coffey with 10, Kalscheur with eight. Their bigs Murphy and Oturu have had some very close finishes at the rim that haven’t dropped. Need those. Also have to hit free throws. Minnesota is just 2 of 6 from the line.
Nobody looks scared out there for the Gophers. Murphy hit two early buckets. Kalscheur bounced back from an early airball to make several long jumpers. Coffey was hunting shots all half. Oturu was assertive in the post. McBrayer even dropped in a pair of jumpers. The starting five looks cohesive, and as a result the Gophers lead by five at the break, 38-33. Volume-wise, Gophers fans are turning this into a home environment, which has to help as well. Murphy said several times this week that March Madness was all about withstanding runs. That could be the difference in the second half if Louisville gets hot.
Other than two fouls on Omersa, the Gophers avoided foul trouble in the first half. That’s huge. I wouldn’t expect Murphy or Coffey to get a break in the second half. Kalscheur might play out the string as well.
Let’s dive into how rare the Jordan Murphy 3 is: He had just six on the season (6 of 26). Now he has a seven. Murphy rattles one in to start the second half. Gophers up seven.
Getting Gabe Kalscheur locked in was a must for the Gophers in this tournament, and he’s absolutely showed up. Thirteen points, three 3s, creating his own shots. Pitino talks about how even-keeled he is, and that emotion-less attitude is showing.
Gophers have a 10-point lead, but there’s still too much time to relax. Can’t resort to jumpers late in the shot clock. Gotta keep the pedal down and brace for the other shoe to drop, if it does. Confidence just oozing from the starting five right now. Also: free throws are preventing the Gophers from really controlling this game. They are 2 of 8.
Jordan Murphy hurt himself on a drive to the basket before the last media timeout, and he’s currently behind the Gophers bench working with a trainer. Can’t tell exactly what’s ailing him, but he took a hard fall. Murphy hits the deck as much as anyone on this team, yet has been durable for the entirety of the last four years. Would be a shame to see something take him out now.
Don’t look now, but it’s becoming a rout in Des Moines. Gophers up 59-43 with 10:48 left. Gabe Kalscheur just nailed back to back 3s, giving him five for the game. His season high is seven. Not even Louisville’s 1-3-1 zone worked. We’re down to the final quarter of this game, and the Gophers are firmly in the driver’s seat. Amazing. Now we’ll see if Murphy returns. Might be a back injury.
A little life now for the Cardinals with seven straight points to pull within 12. Under eight minutes left. But Kalscheur comes down and converts a layup, doing a great job of avoiding a charge against a Louisville player who was set. Timeout Pitino. Minnesota 64, Louisville 50.
Biggers leads than 14 have been trimmed in less time, so the Gophers have to be really careful. They’ve also had some difficulty inbounding against Louisville’s press, which will likely pressure them the rest of the game.
In the previous paragraph I mentioned how the Gophers have struggled to in-bound at times. But once the ball’s gotten in they’ve broken the press pretty easily and gotten some great inside and outside looks. Louisville not very organized on the back end of their — MURPHY HITS A 3.
Louisville has the deficit down to 10 now, 3:52 left, final media timeout. Minnesota, though, still outshooting Louisville behind the arc 41 percent to 38 percent. They’ve made 11 3s to Louisville’s eight. Murphy’s two makes matches a career high, set late in the season against Maryland. One more make ties the Gophers’ season high for made 3s.
Lost in the shuffle here, Jordan Murphy has passed Willie Burton for second on the Gophers’ all-time scoring list. His 18 points put him in rarefied air for the program. What a career. And the final points come as he’s hobbled in a tournament game. Classic Murph. It’s 76-64 Minnesota with 2:46 left.
If not for impeccable 3-point shooting all game, missed free throws would 100 percent be the storyline here. Gophers are 7 of 16 at the stripe. Minnesota has many games where they are average or better, but their bad games are BAD at the line.
This one’s all but over. Minnesota up 80-71 with 39 seconds left. Jordan Murphy’s health could put a damper on the victory, however. This feels like an injury that will stiffen up more and affect him Saturday. Nonetheless, this is a win the fans who made the trek should be proud of. Gophers were clearly the better team.
Glad I timestamped the point where there were 39 seconds left because now we can get an idea for how long the end of these NCAA Tournament games are. Seven minutes have gone by and only 14 seconds off the clock. Officials reviewing a ball out of bounds.
It’s finally final! Gophers win 86-76 to clinch their spot in the second round against either Michigan State or Bradley. Kalscheur finishes with 24 points, eight rebounds. Murphy and Coffey both register 18/6. Stay tuned for all the postgame reaction.