With the Big Ten race tightening each day, Michigan and Minnesota traded blows in a battle for fifth place in the conference standings. The second-to-last week of regular season Big Ten action was concluded with quite the barn-burner at the Barn.
The Golden Gophers led the Wolverines 29-27 going into the locker room at half. Both teams failed to find offensive rhythm in the opening 20 minutes. However, the second half was a completely different game.
Each team scored over 40 points in the final 20 minutes of regulation. Nate Mason, Minnesota’s leading scorer, finally found his stroke after going 0-6 from the field in the first half.
While the Gophers held an eight point advantage with under three minutes to play, the Wolverines did not throw in the towel. Jon Beline’s bunch chipped away in the closing seconds and cut the Minnesota deficit to one after D.J. Wilson hit a contested jumper with 14 seconds remaining in regulation.
Wilson followed that up by nailing a desperation three from nearly mid court on the ensuing possession to send the game to overtime tied at 72.
The bonus five minutes went back and forth as well. Trailing 81-78, Michigan once again had a chance to stay alive with a three. With three seconds left, Walton Jr had a clean look from the elbow but the ball rattled in and out. Minnesota survived and won the highly-competitive contest 83-78.
Here are some key takeaways from the game.
What We Learned
1. Jordan Murphy is an Animal.
Though Mason is the Golden Gophers’ leading scorer, he didn’t particularly bring his A-game on Sunday night. The junior guard played much better in the second half, but went 3-13 from the floor in the contest and scored below his average of 15.1 points per game with 13.
Murphy, on the other hand, put together another dominant performance. In 36 minutes of action, Murphy strung together his fourth consecutive double-double. The sophomore forward scored 16 points and collected 15 rebounds. He also was extremely efficient shooting the ball, converting 7-13 shot attempts.
Murphy has become somewhat of an x-factor for the Golden Gophers. It seems Minnesota wins every time Murphy is able to reach double figures in both scoring and rebounding. In fact, the Golden Gophers are 8-1 this season when Murphy does so, and 4-1 in Big Ten play.
2. Bench Points were the Difference.
While all five of Michigan’s starters scored at least 10 points against Minnesota, their bench didn’t quite show up.
Duncan Robinson scored five points and went 1-4 shooting in 15 minutes off the bench. Mark Donnal was only able to score a single bucket off the bench for the Wolverines, to total just seven bench points for Michigan.
Minnesota, however, compiled 27 bench points in the well-earned victory. Dupree McBrayer scored 15 points and went 7-8 from the free throw line in an extended role off the bench. The sophomore guard played 30 minutes.
Eric Curry also contributed a key performance off the bench for the Golden Gophers. Curry was lights-out from the field, knocking down 5-6 field goals for 12 points. The Memphis, Tennessee product also grabbed five rebounds.
3. Michigan is Still Very Much on the Bubble.
In Joe Lunardi’s most recent Bracketology edition, the Wolverines are listed as a 10 seed. Lunardi also included Michigan in his “Last Four Byes” category, along with TCU, Kansas, and Arkansas.
Luckily for the Wolverines, they picked up a significant resume-building win over No. 11 Wisconsin earlier this week. However, that was the team’s first marquee win in conference play this season. The loss against Minnesota also hands Michigan their 10th loss of the season and puts them back at .500 (7-7) in Big Ten play.
If the season ended today, Michigan would most likely make the field of 68. But, the Minnesota loss puts an immense amount of pressure on the Wolverines to consistently find the win column as the 2016-’17 regular season winds down.
Minnesota has thoroughly answered the bell after losing five straight games in conference play. Since falling to 3-6 in the Big Ten on January 28, The Golden Gophers have won five straight and are essentially a lock to make the NCAA tournament.
The win also keeps Minnesota in strong contention to finish within the top four of the Big Ten. Doing so would earn the Golden Gophers a double-bye in the conference tournament. The Golden Gophers are only one game behind 20-7 (9-5) Northwestern for fourth place. Because of a 70-66 win over the Wildcats on January 5, Minnesota holds the tiebreaker over Northwestern if need be.
The Golden Gophers have caught fire down the stretch. They should not be taken lightly by anyone as the seasons creeps into March.
The loss basically crushes Michigan’s chances of earning a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. At 7-7 in Big Ten play, the Wolverines are a full two games behind fourth place Northwestern with only four regular season games remaining. Michigan still has to travel to Evanston and will be facing a Wildcats team that includes a healthy Scottie Lindsey.
Now that Michigan has hit double-digit losses, each of their four remaining games are extremely valuable to their NCAA tournament chances. Besides the road contest at Northwestern, the Wolverines play Rutgers, Nebraska, and first place Purdue.