Richard Pitino stormed onto the court, red-faced and screaming at one of his own players, a tirade that somehow earned him a technical foul less than two minutes into the game.
He tore off his sport coat and tie in disgust less than a minute after that. Pitino shed his clothes so quickly I thought he might be auditioning to become an underwear model.
He probably wanted to strangle Akeem Springs with his discarded tie when the senior pulled up for an off-balance three-pointer with seven seconds remaining and the Gophers trailing Indiana by one point on a night when Springs couldn’t hit water from the middle of Lake Minnetonka.
But in a fitting conclusion to a weird performance, Springs scored on an acrobatic put-back of his own miss for the deciding points in a 75-74 victory over the Hoosiers on Wednesday night at revved-up Williams Arena.
And now for the truly goofy part: Springs wasn’t even supposed to have the ball in his hands. Pitino set up the play for Amir Coffey, but things went haywire and the coldest shooting player got the last shot. “I was clear as day what we were going to do,” Pitino said. “Evidently it wasn’t as clear as day because we didn’t execute it.”
Oh well. A win’s a win, right?
That should be the main takeaway from the Gophers’ 19th victory. They made the game feel like a root canal at times. But they still found a way to win.
Good teams scratch and claw and survive on nights like this, when shots don’t fall and a loss seems inevitable.
The Gophers won despite Springs shooting 2-for-13. They won despite Dupree McBrayer missing all four of his shots and generally playing out of control.
They won despite Reggie Lynch being limited to 20 minutes before fouling out for the eighth time. They won despite shooting 29 percent in the first half and getting outrebounded for the game.
They won because Nate Mason was brilliant in scoring 30 points and others provided important contributions with the game on the line. That’s the sign of a complete team, a deep team.
Freshman Eric Curry had a key steal and then made the biggest play of the game in tipping Springs’ missed three-pointer back to him for the layup.
Jordan Murphy, a 56 percent free-throw shooter, made two free throws with a minute left.
“We talked about winning plays,” Pitino said.
Aesthetics don’t matter at this juncture, only results. Every victory is important as the Gophers continue to build their NCAA tournament résumé. This one should be particularly pleasing because they showed they can win when they’re not at their best offensively.
“We knew what we had at stake playing this game,” Mason said. “We started off horrible. It says a lot about our team. It says a lot about Akeem to take that shot being 1-for-13.”
Ouch. Truth hurts.
“It felt good to help out,” Springs said. “My guys battled all game and I didn’t feel like I was helping them.”
Give Springs credit for not shying away from the big shot at that moment. The conversation would have been sharply different had he not followed it with a layup, but again, only the result matters.
“My confidence doesn’t sway at all,” he said.
The Gophers offense looked disjointed in the first half especially. Mason saved their bacon with a tough-minded performance.
The game turned when Lynch picked up his fourth foul with 11:46 left in game. The Gophers lost their lead soon after that. Lynch returned and lasted only a few possessions before fouling out with 3:11 left.
Lynch’s inability to avoid foul trouble remains a big concern. He’s one of the best shot-blockers in college basketball, but that matters little if he’s sitting on the bench constantly in foul trouble.
“He gives up more ‘and-ones’ than I’ve ever seen a big guy do,” Pitino said. “He’s got to learn from it.”
This game provided many valuable lessons. Namely, on a night when plenty went wrong, the Gophers still found a way to win.
Good teams have that capability.