Fans lined the border of Williams Arena’s raised court with seconds remaining in Wednesday’s game against Indiana, pushing the security guards who tried to stop them.
The final minute, slowed by 11 free-throw attempts, only heightened the sense of anticipation for the sellout crowd at Williams Arena, which wanted desperately to see the Gophers beat a No. 1 team for the first time since 1989.
They got their wish, as Minnesota upset top-ranked Indiana 77-73 behind a career night from sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe.
“This is awesome,” University sophomore Clint Neumann said. “This is what the fans come to see every week.”
Neumann was one of hundreds of fans who stormed the court as security guards and fans alike stumbled over one another.
“I’ll leave that to the students,” Ron Heinz, 62, said from the stands. “But this is outstanding. I’ve never seen the Barn like this.”
The Gophers effectively punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament with the victory, which ended a two-game losing streak. Minnesota had lost eight of its past 11 games.
The Gophers corrected most of the errors that plagued them during recent 21- and 26-point losses.
Mbakwe had a season-high 21 points and 12 rebounds Tuesday as he stymied Hoosiers player of the year candidate Cody Zeller.
“It’s a wonderful moment,” Mbakwe said. “I wanted to enjoy it as much as I could.”
Minnesota committed 10 turnovers Tuesday after it had a season-high 24 in a loss to Ohio State on Feb. 20.
“Everybody counted us out,” senior Rodney Williams said.
Coach Tubby Smith said there would be no dancing after this triumph, unlike the viral video following Minnesota’s Feb. 14 victory over Wisconsin, which showed the coach and his players jumping around in the locker room to the tune of Ke$ha’s “Die Young.”
“Nah, no dancing for us,” Williams said. “That was bad luck.”
Tuesday’s game was tight wire-to-wire. The biggest lead in the first half for either team came six-and-a-half minutes in, with the Gophers up 16-10.
Minnesota played inside-out basketball early, letting Mbakwe score the game’s first six points, which opened up outside shooting.
But the Gophers’ shots didn’t fall, as Andre Hollins started the game 1-for-9 from the field. That allowed the Hoosiers to take a four-point halftime lead and build it to eight points in the second half.
Zeller, one of the nation’s top players, had two points and zero field goals by halftime.
“You’ve got to make [Zeller] play both ends of the court,” Smith said. “I think Trevor playing the way he did early on [helped].”
Zeller finished with nine points on 2-for-9 shooting and four turnovers.
“We doubled at times, doing anything we could to negate his skill set,” Smith said.
Minnesota and Indiana were tied five times in the second half, the last tie coming at 58-58 with 4:39 left.
Then Austin Hollins, who finished the game 3-for-11, hit a layup while he was fouled and made the free throw.
Andre Hollins followed with a three-pointer, and Joe Coleman’s dunk gave the Gophers their largest lead of the night, 68-61 with 2:31 left.
The Hoosiers pulled within three with four seconds left, but they never had possession with a chance to tie.
Minnesota is no stranger to a letdown after an emotional win, and Smith knows it.
“That’s what happens to you sometimes,” Smith said. “You get a false sense of accomplishment. I was more matter of fact [after the game], telling them that we’ve got practice tomorrow.”