CHICAGO – Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle sat in the postgame news conference watching coach Richard Pitino talk about his basketball team’s chances at making the NCAA tournament after Thursday’s 77-72 overtime victory over Penn State, but he already knew the answer.
Coyle thought before the Big Ten tournament opener that the Gophers just had to win another game.
“Winning always helps,” Coyle said. “The cool thing is that you control it if you win games. It helps your case what you’re trying to do long-term. That’s the nice thing it’s in our hands. We just have to keep winning basketball games.”
A week ago, the Gophers upset No. 11 Purdue on Senior Night to essentially get themselves a pretty good shot at one of the 36 NCAA at-large bids, but Coyle pointed out the atmosphere as the most impressive thing about that victory. Fans stormed the Williams Arena court to celebrate with Pitino and his players.
“I was excited for our student-athletes and excited for Richard,” Coyle said. “They worked so hard. Purdue is a great basketball team. For us to win that night in front of some great fans, it was awesome. The vibe of the Barn that night was awesome to see.”
The Gophers play Purdue for the third time this season in Friday night’s quarterfinals at United Center. Junior Amir Coffey, who had 32 points in the 73-69 victory at home, said he’s looking forward to the rematch.
“I think both times we played well as a team against Purdue,” Coffey said. “We split the series with them, so we’ll just enjoy the win [Thursday] and prepare for that game [Friday].”
Coffey finished third in Big Ten games with 35.9 minutes played per game, behind only Penn State’s Lamar Stevens (37.3) and Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. (36.9).
He played at least 39 minutes in six of the Gophers’ last eight games entering Thursday, which included playing all 40 minutes vs. the Wildcats and Boilermakers. He played 44 minutes in the overtime win against Penn State.
Coffey said he would continue to stay on the court the entire game if “that’s what Coach needs me to do.”
The Gophers don’t have a reliable true point guard this season, so it’s been hard for them to take Coffey out of the game.
Sophomore guard Isaiah Washington, who averages 4.3 points and 3.0 assists off the bench, didn’t play in the last three regular-season games and Thursday vs. the Nittany Lions.
“[Washington’s] healthy,” Pitino said earlier. “A lot of it is Amir, he’s playing pretty good. … The game will dictate who you play. With Amir, he’s playing pretty well. If he continues playing well, he’ll stay in the game.”