WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – In his fourth season as Gophers men’s basketball coach, Richard Pitino never had beaten a team on the road ranked higher than Purdue (then No. 15).
That should settle the debate as to whether it was Pitino’s biggest victory, right?
The Gophers did upset No. 5 Maryland last season at home for their first Big Ten victory, ending a 14-game losing streak. Two seasons ago, they won at Michigan State for the first time since their 1997 Final Four season. They upset No. 9 Wisconsin at Williams Arena in Pitino’s first season in 2013-14.
Pitino wouldn’t say where Sunday’s 91-82 overtime victory over the Boilermakers ranks for him, but he realized how special it was after what the Gophers went through last season, going 2-16 in the conference, including 0-9 on the road.
“I don’t even know when the last time we won here was,” he said before being told it was 2005. “To find a way to breakthrough on the road, in a great environment against a terrifically coached team with some really good players means a lot.”
Nate Mason was named Big Ten co-player of the week Monday, along with Nebraska’s Tai Webster, following the Gophers junior guard’s career-high 31 points and 11 assists Sunday. Mason said the Purdue victory was important for his younger teammates, because they took it hard after Tuesday’s Big Ten-opening 75-74 overtime home loss to Michigan State.
“It’s a big win,” said Mason, the first player in Gophers history to have 30 points and 10 assists in a game. “Not only to me but to my young guys. For [freshman] Eric Curry, it probably gave him a lot of confidence right now. It was definitely big for all of us going into the next game. We just have to get over this win; not get too high and focus on scouting for the next game.”
Curry, who had seven of his 10 points in overtime, said he believed Sunday was a breakthrough game for him offensively. His roommate and fellow freshman Amir Coffey has received most of the attention this season, but the 6-9 Curry has high expectations for himself.
“I just know big men [in the conference] are very strong and very tough,” Curry said. “I just got to hold my own down there. This is a tough league. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us, so we have to go out there and do our thing.”
Three of the Gophers’ next four games are on the road, including Thursday against Northwestern.
Regardless of where this game ranks for Pitino, he knows it was critical for the Gophers to pick up their first Big Ten victory to boost their confidence going into a tough stretch.
“When you lose, guys get down on themselves,” Pitino said. “In a game like Michigan State, you had [the chance] to win there. Our poise and our confidence was really, really good. They fought back. The crowd got really loud. We weathered the storm. I think we had a great way about us.”