WASHINGTON – Akeem Springs transferred to Minnesota for his senior year, believing the Gophers would give him a chance to finish his career in the NCAA tournament.
But Springs now probably won’t get that opportunity. He suffered what is likely a torn right Achilles’ tendon injury in the second half of Minnesota’s 63-58 victory against Michigan State on Friday in the Big Ten tournament.
“I don’t think it’s looking good,” coach Richard Pitino said after the game. “We think it’s a popped Achilles’. Our doctors ... I think they’re pretty sure of it. It’s a huge blow. If that is the case, I feel awful for Akeem. My heart dropped.”
Springs, a 6-foot-4 guard and team captain, fell to the floor after the Gophers grabbed a defensive rebound near the four-minute mark of the second half Friday. He couldn’t put weight on his right leg and needed assistance getting to the locker room.
“I just felt like something popped in the back of my leg,” Springs said in the locker room after the game, using crutches. “I’m just happy they pulled it out. I’m so excited they were able to pull it out. We worked so hard to get here.”
The Waukegan, Ill., native had six points on 2-for-4 shooting from three-point range in 28 minutes against Michigan State. Springs averaged 9.6 points and led the team with 65 three-pointers during the regular season.
“I hate it,” Pitino said. “He doesn’t deserve that. His leadership has transformed this team. Our guys, they need to rally around him because he deserves that. He came here with no ego. He transformed our locker room. He made some huge shots.”
Pitino said he would likely move Amir Coffey to shooting guard and play Michael Hurt and Ahmad Gilbert more at small forward. Dupree McBrayer also started the first 19 games before Springs replaced him in the starting lineup Jan. 21 against Wisconsin.
“We’re going to have to adjust,” Pitino said. “Obviously, less than 24 hours is not ideal circumstances.”
McBrayer fights nerves
McBrayer remembered sitting on the sideline with his suspended teammates Nate Mason and Kevin Dorsey watching the Gophers lose to Illinois by 30 points in the Big Ten tournament opening round last year.
McBrayer, Mason and Dorsey missed the last four games last season after being disciplined for a sex video scandal. Dorsey, a freshman, transferred after the season. Mason had played in the conference tournament the year before. But it was McBrayer’s first postseason experience in college Friday against Michigan State.
“I had a little bit of nerves out there,” McBrayer said. “Second half is when I started to do a little bit more. I got my confidence and I thought I was going to start rolling from there.”
McBrayer had eight points on 3-for-5 shooting, but his back-to-back three-pointers sparked an 8-0 run in the second half to give Minnesota a 41-33 lead.
The 6-5 New York native is likely to start Saturday in place of Springs. He averages 10.9 points coming off the bench.
Setting the record
The Gophers now have a 16-win improvement from last season’s 8-23 record, which sets the conference record for biggest turnaround. They were previously tied with Indiana’s 2012 season going from 12 to 27 wins. Ohio State’s 1998-99 team had a 19-game improvement, but that season was later vacated.