With 11 games now remaining in the season and Minnesota sitting right on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament, every game is important. Especially when that game is at home against a ranked rival.
Thanks to one of its best offensive performances of the season, Minnesota 15-5 (5-4 Big Ten) defeated No. 19 Iowa (16-5, 5-5 Big Ten) 92-87. After scoring 57 points in a heartbreaking loss at Michigan on Tuesday, the Gophers needed less than 22 minutes to eclipse that total on Sunday.
"That was our best offensive performance," said head coach Richard Pitino. "It's not about what you necessarily run, it's how you run it and I thought we spaced the floor very well."
The Gophers put up points at a scorching pace in the first half. They scored 55 before half time, their highest total in any half this season. Seven different players scored in the opening twenty minutes, including senior Jordan Murphy (13), freshman Gabe Kalscheur (12) and junior Amir Coffey (11) who all were all in double-figures at the intermission.
"I think it was pretty good for us to play like that," Murphy said. "I think we were pretty dynamic offensively in the first half. Obviously, we're really hard to guard and we were passing the ball really well. Hopefully we keep carrying that effort on to more games."
Minnesota pushed the tempo in the first half, playing at a fast pace and moving the ball around. The Gophers had assists on 17 of their 21 first half field goals. Iowa was able to keep pace with Minnesota, however, thanks to making six of its nine 3-point attempts in the first half.
After halftime, the game began to slow down. Iowa played a press defense that prevented the Gophers from getting the ball up the court quickly. The Hawkeyes held Minnesota without a field goal for a stretch lasting over six minutes. With 7:56 remaining, Kalscheur ended that skid with a corner 3-pointer that gave the Gophers a 74-63 lead.
"It's a game of runs, we knew that they would make a run," Coffey said. "Especially a late push. We just stayed confident and stayed together, just finishing the game like we did."
Kalscheur's 3-pointer was the beginning of a 10-2 run for the Gophers, to which Iowa responded with a 13-1 run of its own. With Minnesota up four with under a minute to go, senior Dupree McBrayer turned a steal into a fast break opportunity. He got fouled cutting to the rim and made one of two free throws. On the next possession, McBrayer hauled in an offensive rebound and found redshirt sophomore Eric Curry streaking down the court for an easy, game-sealing dunk.
"We made big plays at the end when we needed to," Pitino said. "Dupree especially made some great ones, Gabe made some big ones, they all did. That was a terrific versus a really good team."
The trio of Murphy, Coffey and Kalscheur carried Minnesota to victory in the absence of freshman Daniel Oturu, who sat out with an injury. Murphy lived up to his billing as one of the country's best players with 23 points, 11 rebounds (five offensive) and six assists. Coffey added 23 points and five assists of his own while Kalscheur had 19 points, nine of which came on 3-point baskets.
Minnesota plays next on Wednesday night at Williams Arena. The Gophers will try to get revenge on Illinois, the team that routed Minnesota 95-68 nearly two weeks ago.
"I don't think there's a person in out locker room that's forgot that loss," Murphy said. "Obviously, it stings. We really want this win on Wednesday."