After dramatic wins on Thursday over Penn State and Friday over Purdue, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are playing for a place in the Big Ten Championship against the Michigan Wolverines, who beat them twice in the regular season.
Follow along with Sam Ekstrom’s live commentary from United Center in Chicago.
Good afternoon! United Center is packed in for Michigan State vs Wisconsin with the Gophers to follow. Wolverines have led wire to wire on the Badgers and are 13 minutes from punching their ticket to the title game. The Spartans obviously present the toughest challenge for Minnesota, having beaten them by 24 earlier in the year.
News break about five minutes ago: No Matz Stockman for Minnesota. He got concussed in the second half last night, meaning Jarvis Omersa and Michael Hurt will see more minutes. This will be a low-key big storyline heading into the NCAA Tournament since the Gophers are already short on front-court depth. Omersa hasn’t played more than 10 minutes in a game since Dec. 2.
It’s official: Michigan State advances. Cassius Winston was a little hobbled in the second half but still managed 21 points and six assists. Kid is really, really good. Wisconsin turned it over just five times and still lost by 12. That’s how efficient these Spartans are. Will be a tough out in March Madness.
Just to jog your memory, Gophers played a great game against Michigan on the road and lost 59-57 on a buzzer beater. They got drilled at home 69-60 — the score looks better than the actual game. Michigan squashed Iowa Friday night to reach this game, getting double figures from five players. Their bench produced 21 points, while Minnesota’s scored zero in their win over Purdue.
If you’re wondering about precedent, the Gophers haven’t reached a Big Ten Title since 2010, which was also the last time they won multiple games in the tournament. That year that beat Penn State in the first round, knocked off Michigan State in overtime, crushed Purdue in the semi and got blown out by Ohio State in the championship. They also lost their first NCAA Tournament game.
Pretty sure Richard Pitino just yelled “Wake the (bleep) up!” to his team after allowing a transition layup. Michigan’s Jordan Poole has six early points at the rim. 9-4 Wolverines. Kalscheur’s been tasked with guarding Poole.
First media timeout. Gophers are looking to get their outside shooting working early without much success. Jon Teske may be an even more physical defender than Matt Haarms last night for Purdue and is only about an inch shorter. Murphy’s ability to attack him will be monumental.
Second media timeout with 11:22 left in the first half. 13-11 Michigan. Gophers have defended much better after some early lapses, and hey, Jarvis Omersa has been a key part of that with three rebounds (and he added an assist). Minnesota’s shots are coming up short, which could be an early sign of fatigue.
22-15 Michigan, who’s on a nice run with 7:29 left in the first. Ignas Brazdeikis, the Canadian freshman, hit and jumper and followed it up two possessions later with a fast break dunk. Then Poole banked in a 3 (Gophers have banked in a million this year, so they probably deserve that). Twice Amir Coffey has gotten stripped by Poole on dribble drives. Michigan is stingy. They’re not going to let Murphy or Coffey tear them up. Gotta trust Kalscheur and McBrayer to make some shots.
Michigan just has a bunch of shotmakers. Zavier Simpson, Brazdeikis, Poole — and they’re all locked in. Gabe Kalscheur just missed an uncontested layup for Minnesota. Wolverines have taken their lead to 28-15 with 5:02 to go in the first. Not sure the Gophers have the fortitude to climb back from this after what they’ve gone through the last two days.
Captain Obvious statement: Gophers need to stem the tide in these last four minutes of the half. Cut it to 10? They’ve got a chance. Let it balloon to 16? Ballgame.
And it ballooned. Michigan hits a pair of 3s, then scores on a fast break layup at the first half buzzer to take a nearly insurmountable 19-point lead into the locker room. 38-19. They outshot Minnesota 57 percent to 33 percent in the first half — that’s just not going to cut it. Gophers didn’t hit a 3 and just look gassed. Murphy leads them with six.
If this deficit remains, it will be very interesting to see if and when Isaiah Washington gets some second-half minutes. If healthy as Richard Pitino insists, he would be the freshest member of the reserves. Everyone has seen the jolt he can give the offense when engaged, so it would be strange if he remained on the sideline while McBrayer, Coffet, et al get worn down.
Jordan Murphy getting closer and closer to Willie Burton’s 1,800 points for second all-time in the program. He needs 17 more to break that mark after reaching double figures here against Michigan. Still 45-25 Wolverines.
This Michigan v. Michigan State game Sunday will be a blast. Two teams that defend hard and shoot the lights out. Michigan is doing to Minnesota, however, what it looked like Michigan State was going to do to Wisconsin early — putting the pedal down. It’s now 55-30 with 14 minutes left. Getting ugly.
And there’s Isaiah Washington with the score 60-34 and 11 minutes to go. Mop-up time already with Michigan shooting a gaudy 57 percent for the game.
I’ll say this: Had the Gophers been able to win a Big Ten Championship, that would have been bigger, I think, to the program than one NCAA Tournament win (just my opinion). But if they were going to lose in the conference tournament, better to do it Saturday and get the extra day of recovery. First March Madness game will be Thursday or Friday.
76-46 Michigan with under four minutes left. This feels like the 2010 Big Ten Championship when Minnesota made a run to the title game and lost by 29 to Ohio State. First bench points of the game just scored by Michael Hurt on a long jumper.
Just 2:37 remaining now. Gophers will likely head home and watch the Selection Show Sunday afternoon. There should be media access at their viewing party, so Zone Coverage will be there to get reaction to their pairing. Lots of talk about Jacksonville, Columbia or Columbus as a first-round locale.
Final: Michigan 76, Minnesota 49. Best way to sum it up: Gophers showed Friday that they can play with the best when they’re at their best. But games like this have happened every so often where their warts get accentuated in a bad matchup. All in all, it was a successful tourney for Minnesota, and I think they can enjoy their day tomorrow without wondering what was left on the table. Thanks for reading along!