After a 77-72 overtime victory over Penn State on Thursday, Minnesota continued its Big Ten Tournament run on Friday. The team's quarterfinal opponent was a Purdue squad that the Gophers upset 73-69 just 10 days prior.
This time on a neutral site, Minnesota (21-12, 9-11 Big Ten) again defeated Purdue (23-9, 16-4 Big Ten). Having seemingly clinched a spot in the NCAA Tournament already, the Gophers showed no signs of slowing down, knocking off the Big Ten regular season co-champions 75-73.
"[It] may have been our best game of the year," said head coach Richard Pitino. "Playing obviously much better basketball and getting better. The beauty of this time of year is you learn something from every team that you play and your players learn."
Minnesota avoided another lethargic start offensively, instead finding senior Jordan Murphy and freshman Daniel Oturu early for easy baskets in the paint.
"The main [focus] was to throw the first punch and be the aggressors," Murphy said. "Last night we let Penn State jump out on us too early, so we knew it would be hard to climb back."
Oturu gave Minnesota a six-point lead at the 15:21 mark of the first half with a basket and extra point, but a Purdue run subsequently put the Gophers behind 17-15.
Minnesota responded by finding its stroke from behind the arc. Freshman Gabe Kalscheur hit a 3-pointer to give Minnesota the lead back 18-17, and Kalscheur and junior Amir Coffey each hit two more 3-pointers before halftime. Despite shooting 5-9 on 3-point attempts and 63 percent from the field overall, the Gophers held a narrow 42-39 edge at the break.
After the intermission, a 13-6 run gave Minnesota a 55-45 lead, but just like the first two meetings, Purdue regained the momentum midway through the second half. A quick 17-6 Boilermakers' run gave them their first lead since 2:55 remained before halftime.
For the rest of the game, the teams traded buckets back-and-forth, neither side pulling more than one possession ahead of the other. With under two minutes to go and the Gophers down 71-69, Murphy made a driving layup and drew a foul, leading to a 3-point play, which gave Minnesota a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
That lead held until the final buzzer, when Purdue junior Carsen Edwards missed a step-back 3-pointer. Edwards, a unanimous All-Big Ten selection among coaches and media, struggled again versus the Gophers. After shooting 7-31 on March 5, Edwards shot just 4-17 on Friday.
Kalscheur, Edwards' primary defender, described the key to containing the speedy guard.
"I'd say just giving him really tough shots," Kalscheur said. "It's hard going off those triple-screens, so just giving him the hardest shots is what I tried to do."
With the victory, Minnesota's stock continues to rise before the NCAA Tournament. Pitino said he feels his team is flying under the radar, but that doesn't bother his players.
"I told them in the locker room, 'You guys might be the least talked-about team in the country,'" Pitino said. "That's fine with our guys, we relish that."
The Gophers' two stars showed once again why they're two of the most talented players in the conference. Murphy led all scorers with 27 points and also had eight rebounds (four offensive) and four assists. Coffey extended his streak of games with 20 or more points to five, dropping 21 points on Friday. Oturu contributed a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Tomorrow at 2:30 p.m., Minnesota will take the court at the United Center once again, playing the winner of the Iowa-Michigan match-up.
"I thought today was our most complete game," Pitino said. "So they should feel good about it. But we need to get some rest, we've been playing some guys a lot of minutes."