Basketball is a beautiful sport. The unpredictability, although occasionally frustrating, is what makes the game so much fun to digest, watch, and analyze.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers and Alabama Crimson Tide showed why basketball is so glorious on this Saturday evening. In a truly unprecedented turn of events, Alabama was forced to play with only three players for nearly 11 minutes. Yet, they were able to stay competitive, ultimately, losing by only four points.
No team is prepared to play with or against three players, but it seems somewhat troublesome that Minnesota only win by two baskets. I mean, think of it in simple terms, two Gophers were unguarded every time down the floor! None the less, they bolstered their record to an unblemished 7-0 heading into their huge match-up with Miami on Wednesday.
Here is what we took away from the pandemonium of this evening's contest.
What We Learned
1. Yes, teams can play short-handed.
Many of us do not take the time to remember that teams, if they need to, can play short-handed. However, the Alabama Crimson Tide made us brush up on our basketball rules Saturday night.
During a second half kerfuffle, the entire Crimson Tide bench was ejected from the game for coming onto the floor. Therefore, Avery Johnson was only left with five players, the same five players who were on the floor at the time of scuffle.
As Dazon Ingram fouled out of the game with over 11 minutes to play, Alabama was now down to four players. Just over a minute later, John Petty went down due to injury and did not return. Things went from bad to worse in a span of a few minutes for Avery Johnson as Alabama now had to play with just three players. Not to mention, there was still over 10 minutes remaining in the game.
With the Gophers on the power play, they were unable to put a sizable margin between them and the Tide. Ultimately, Minnesota gutted out a four-point win, but Alabama made it difficult. It is hard to not give the Crimson Tide credit with the odds greatly stacked against them. A tip of the cap to them.
2. Collin Sexton is freaky good.
Coming into today's game, Sexton had already established himself as a freshman to watch for Alabama. He was averaging 21.5 points per contest, playing in four of the team's first five games. Tonight, he thrusted himself into the "best freshman in the country" debate.
Given the circumstances, Sexton was really the last remaining hope to keep the Crimson Tide relevant. With only two players accompanying him, he exploded on the offensive end. By games end, he racked up 40 points, six rebounds, and five assists. This included 17 points with only two players around him.
After a performance like this, it's easy to understand why Dick Vitale considered Sexton to be of "diaper dandy" potential. With this Alabama team poised to contend with Kentucky for the SEC, Sexton will continue to shine as he becomes more acclimated to the college game.
3. Jordan Murphy is currently the most valuable player in the Big Ten.
We knew coming in that Murphy was the most valuable Gopher. However, he has now proven himself to be the most valuable player in the conference. After only one half, Murphy had accrued a double-double, his seventh in a row.
What proves his worth is how Minnesota played without him tonight. With just under four minutes remaining in the game, Murphy fouled out, finishing with 19 points and 14 rebounds. At that time, the Gophers led 81-72. That is certainly not a comfortable lead, but it is a decent margin going into the home stretch of the game, especially against three opponents.
Throughout the rest of the game, Minnesota only scored eight points to Alabama's 12. Within that span, the Gopher lead was dwindled down to only three points at one time. Luckily, Minnesota was able to avoid a seriously embarrassing loss to a shorthanded team. One has to wonder how the team will perform in Big Ten play if Murphy is in foul trouble or out of the game. It is certainly something to keep an eye on.
The old and cliche adage is, "a win's a win" and maybe the Minnesota Golden Gophers should cling to that mantra tonight. Pushing aside the outrageous circumstances of the second half, Minnesota did play a better game, even when Alabama had five players. They controlled almost every aspect of the game.
However the story line will be how they struggled when the Crimson Tide were only playing with three players. Just know, the Gophers earned this win regardless of how many players Alabama was playing with.
It certainly has to feel good to win a game of this magnitude. Especially since their most difficult non-conference game awaits them on Wednesday. Tonight's victory provides some added momentum heading into the heavyweight bout against Miami at The Barn in four days.