The Gophers men’s basketball team shot 3-for-20 to start Wednesday’s game against Indiana, eventually staring at a 10-point deficit and a crowd filled with frustrated fans.
Somehow the Gophers overcame probably their worst start to a game this year at home and turned it into their most thrilling victory. Junior guard Nate Mason had 18 of his 30 points in the first half, and senior guard Akeem Springs scored the winning basket with 3.2 seconds left Wednesday night in a gutsy 75-74 victory against Indiana in front of an announced 11,658 at Williams Arena.
“Nate Mason was as good as it gets, playing with unbelievable confidence,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “ I told [Springs] when you’re 1-for-12, you better follow your shot. So you knew you were going to miss it.”
By winning their fourth consecutive game, the Gophers (19-7, 7-6) tied the school record for the biggest one-year turnaround with 11 more victories than last season’s 8-23 record.
Springs made his redeeming basket after his worst shooting game as a Gopher, with four points on 2-for-13 shooting, including 0-for-6 from three-point range.
Sophomore center Thomas Bryant, who had only eight points on 3-for-14 shooting, hit two free throws to put Indiana ahead 74-73 with 17 seconds left. He had also put the Hoosiers up with a basket with 49.5 seconds left, but Mason responded with a drive for a 73-72 lead with 42.4 seconds to go.
Pitino said the final play actually was supposed to free freshman guard Amir Coffey for a shot off a ball screen and dribble handoff, but the ball ended up in the hands of Springs for a fadeaway three-pointer.
The graduate transfer from Wisconsin-Milwaukee had missed his first 10 shots of the game, so he was actually looking to pass to Mason. But he couldn’t find his teammate and, after missing the three, was in the right place at the right time when freshman forward Eric Curry tipped the offensive rebound to him.
“It felt good to get a win,” Springs said. “My guys, they were battling all game. I just didn’t feel like I was helping them. It felt good to contribute after such a tough game.”
After a timeout, Indiana (15-12, 5-9) saw a last-second desperation jumper by guard James Blackmon Jr. fall short. Blackmon finished with a team-high 22 points for the Hoosiers, who lost for the sixth time in the past seven games.
Gophers sophomore forward Jordan Murphy finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds. Coffey had all of his 17 points in the second half, to go with seven rebounds.
The Gophers, who led 33-29 at halftime Wednesday, haven’t made it easy in the past two home games. It took two overtimes to finally beat Iowa 101-89 at home last week. But they are getting closer and closer to securing an NCAA tournament spot. A favorable schedule remains, with three of their last five regular-season games at home, including Sunday against Michigan.
“We knew what we had at stake coming up playing this game,” Mason said. “We just wanted to give it our all.”
The Gophers found themselves trailing for the first time midway through the second half after Mason missed the front end of a 1-and-1. The Hoosiers grabbed a 51-49 lead when sophomore forward Juwan Morgan’s three-point play capped a 9-0 run.
The Gophers stayed within three points until Murphy’s two free throws — set up by a steal from Curry — gave them a 71-70 lead with 1:06 left, but the lead seesawed the rest of the way — until Springs eventually hit the game-winner.