When the crowd finally cleared, the court at Williams Arena was a carcass.
Scattered paper debris and one stray pompom remained from the fray that overtook the Minnesota players after the buzzer sounded. The scoreboard was stuck showing the Gophers on top of No. 1 Indiana 77-73 long after the players paraded down to the locker room -- as if the fans could forget without the night's heroes there.
A half-hour later, not much else remained on the floor. Led by an incredibly aggressive 21-point, 12-rebound performance by Trevor Mbakwe, the Gophers (19-9, 7-8 in the Big Ten) had taken their last scrap of guts, heart, grit and hope and left it all there for the screaming, surging crowd of 14,625 to snatch off the wooden tiles.
Less than 30 minutes earlier, Mbakwe, Rodney Williams and Andre Hollins were standing near center court when Hollins hit one of two free throws with three seconds left to seal the victory and open the floodgates.
"All the sudden, Trevor fell and I ended up falling, and then Andre Hollins ended up falling -- so we were just all in the middle of the court on the ground for a while," Williams said. "When it happens like that, you don't really mind. That was a special moment for us."
One they fought for from the opening tip to the final seconds.
It felt like a certain destiny then, despite Indiana's Christian Watford's pair of three-pointers to shrink the Gophers' lead to four with 43 seconds to go and Jordan Hulls' three-pointer with four seconds left to put the Hoosiers (24-4, 12-3) within a single possession.
Minnesota had been here before -- in its first Big Ten loss, before the season ran off the tracks, when Indiana held off the Gophers' second-half surge and put them away.
"It was more of a pride thing," said Hollins (16 points, three assists). "The last time we played them, we just gave them the game. We let them dog us out, and we know we have to hold home court. It's a certain toughness you have to have when you play at home -- it's a little moxie you have to have because it's your place."
That the Gophers had witnessed frustrated, booing faces with signs calling for their coach to be fired as the losses dragged out and just three wins came in 11 games only added to the motivation.
Finally, the Gophers got angry, taking it out by totaling 44 rebounds to Indiana's 30, with an all-out attack in the paint, stellar defense on the Hoosiers' Cody Zeller (nine points, seven rebounds) and a perpetual intensity.
Minnesota led by six early and rebounded from a 34-30 deficit at the half by striking quickly in the second. Mbakwe, as he did in the first half, propelled his team with two quick baskets. When the Gophers trailed by seven with 13:12 left, Elliott Eliason's scoring led them back to a tie, with Hollins snapping out of a two-point first half to put Minnesota ahead.
Soon, the crowd was creeping closer, salivating for the chance.
"That's something -- you watch it on TV all the time and you always wish for it, and it finally happened," said Williams, who also got a hug and a kiss from his daughter amid the fray.
The arena guards could hold the fans back only so long.
So just before Williams hit the ground, he smiled and took it in.
Sports home page photo of Williams Arena crowd courtesy of Nadine Babu
|Utah Valley U||64|
|(5) South Carolina||67|
|(14) NC State||79|
|(11) Penn State||82|
|(2) Notre Dame||83|
|(19) Michigan State||61|
|(13) North Carolina||73||FINAL|
|(15) Texas A&M||86|
|San Diego State||46||FINAL|
|San Jose St||80||FINAL|