MADISON, WIS. – The Gophers saw their best chance in years to get their first victory at Wisconsin since 2009 slip away when they let the game go into overtime last season.
They didn’t allow that to happen again.
Amir Coffey dominated the first half Thursday night and the defense came up big in the clutch to hang on for the 59-52 victory over the No. 22 Badgers, ending an eight-game losing streak in the Border Battle series.
“It’s a great win,” said Richard Pitino, who hadn’t beaten Wisconsin since his first season as Gophers coach in 2013-14. “I’m happy for our guys. It’s important for us to be able to compete in these games in the Big Ten and find a way to get some road wins.”
The last time the Gophers came out victorious at Wisconsin was on Jan. 15, 2009 in overtime, 78-74. Before that, they last won in Madison in 1994 — and that was in the old Field House.
“It’s always good to beat Wisconsin, especially at their place,” Coffey said. “It’s just a real good team effort. We were just excited after the game.”
The celebration in the locker room for the Gophers was especially gratifying for senior Dupree McBrayer, who went from the heartbreak of losing his mother to cancer last month to the emotional high of making critical plays down the stretch.
After the Badgers cut a 15-point deficit to 49-47 on a three-pointer from D’Mitrik Trice, Coffey scored on an off-balance floater. But McBrayer extended the lead to eight points after scoring in transition on back-to-back steals.
The last theft on a poor pass from Brad Davison was finished with a dunk to put an exclamation point on the defensive effort by the Gophers (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten), who won their sixth consecutive game.
“This is my last year, so to get a win here was amazing,” said McBrayer, who had 14 points. “It was a really good game. I don’t know how I got the ball the second time for the dunk, but I got it and dunked it. Can’t ask for any more.”
The Badgers (10-4, 2-1), who lost their previous game at Western Kentucky on Saturday, also were done in by going 7-for-17 at the foul line. Jordan Murphy fouled out with five points and 10 rebounds at 3:49 left, but Khalil Iverson missed both free throws. Preseason All-America Ethan Happ scored 17 points for Wisconsin but was 1-for-7 on free throws, as Pitino tried to get the 51.9 percent free-throw shooter to the line.
“We just kept fouling Happ,” Pitino said. “We talked about just sending him to the free-throw line and finding a way to get the rebound.”
It didn’t seem like either team wanted to take control early until Wisconsin went scoreless for nine minutes in the first half. Minnesota grabbed the momentum with a 12-0 run for a 14-6 lead.
Brevin Pritzl ended the Badgers’ drought with a three-pointer, but less than a minute later, Coffey started sizzling. A floater near the seven-minute mark gave him his first basket, but the 6-8 Hopkins product eventually scored on threes, free throws and layups.
The Gophers led 29-14 at halftime — Coffey single-handedly outscored Wisconsin 15-14. It continued his explosion from the previous Big Ten game in early December, when Coffey had career-high 32 points to help erase a 13-point second-half deficit in a Dec. 5 win against Nebraska.
“I was just being aggressive,” he said. “They had a couple weak spots. They weren’t guarding ball screens really good.”
Wisconsin got within 31-26, but Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate transfer Brock Stull answered with consecutive threes to stretch it out to a double-figure margin again. Pitino said he was simply going with more experience in playing Stull over Isaiah Washington, who didn’t leave the bench for the first time this season.