Winning the NIT comes with its own sense of (moderate) accomplishment, but what these players were truly playing for was the thrill of the exciting game! The Gophers were involved in more than a few exciting games this past season, but these are the top three and they are indisputable.
3. vs. Wisconsin, Jan. 22: Any other season and an evisceration of a top-10 Wisconsin team at home would probably be the best game of the season for Minnesota, but it's not every season that you go on to win the NIT! At the end of January, the Gophers had a stretch of four straight games against ranked opponents with the Border Battle against Wisconsin looming at the end. Coming into the game against the Badgers, the Gophers were 1-2 during their brutal four game run. A win against Wisconsin wasn't completely mandatory, but it was more how offseason "captain's workouts" are mandatory in football. The game started off inauspiciously for Minnesota as leading scorer Andre Hollins went down with an injury in the first minute, but it didn't really matter as the Gophers took a 34-28 lead into halftime. Things kept clicking for Minnesota in the second half and they blew out #9 Wisconsin 81-68. Mo Walker set up shop in the post and by the end of the game he had expanded his little shop into a multinational corporation. My hard to understand metaphors aside, Minnesota owned the paint and outscored Wisconsin by 1,000,000 there. Strangely enough, this fantastic win helped the Gophers to, uh, lose their next three games. I don't get it either. Minnesota was a weird team this year.
2. vs. Florida State (at Madison Square Garden), April 1: This was no April Fool's joke (*kills self*), the Gophers beat FSU in the NIT semifinals in a thrilling OT contest, 67-64. Minnesota didn't make a single field goal in overtime, but converted seven free throw attempts (including a sparkling 6-for-6 by Mo Walker) to hang on for the win. Austin Hollins and Deandre Mathieu each dropped 17 on the Seminoles and Walked added nine points and six boards.
1. vs. Southern Methodist (at Madison Square Garden), April 3: The Gophers ended the season on the highest (besides winning the actual NCAA Tournament) of notes by besting SMU 65-63 in the NIT final. It was the third* time that the Gophers won the NIT (*1998 title vacated due to Clem Haskins related academic issues) and was the cherry on top of an impressive first sundae, er, season under coach Richard Pitino. Austin Hollins lead the way for the Gophers with 19 points, four steals, and a game clinching late three pointer and Andre Hollins added 14 points for Minnesota. I feel bad for taking some pot shots at the Gophers throughout this post, so allow me to end on a sincere note: I think Minnesota had a successful season and are set up well to compete in a down B1G next year. *exhales* That was terrible.