MINNEAPOLIS – MINNEAPOLIS – DeAndre Mathieu darted through the Indiana defense like a water bug and flicked the ball in to give Minnesota a four-point lead with 12 seconds left.
Mathieu missed a similar-looking layup last weekend at the end of a one-point loss. His driving shot late in the second overtime of the next game didn’t go in, either. He wasn’t fazed, though, and neither were the Gophers.
Mathieu had 10 of his 16 points in the second half, helping Minnesota overtake Indiana for a 66-60 victory on Saturday night to end a three-game losing streak.
“It feels good to finally get one to go down in the end,” Mathieu said. “I’m one of those players that loves to take the last shot. I have ultimate confidence in myself.”
Maurice Walker pitched in 14 points and eight rebounds, and Andre Hollins added 10 points for the Gophers (16-8, 5-6 Big Ten), who lost to Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue over the last two weeks by a total of eight points. The Northwestern game at home hurt the most. After Mathieu’s miss, Walker overshot a put-back at the buzzer. Then came the three-overtime loss at Purdue.
“They were so eager to play again. They weren’t pouting. They know we’re close,” coach Richard Pitino said.
Yogi Ferrell led the Hoosiers (14-9, 4-6) with 14 points and four assists, but he went just 2-for-9 from 3-point range. Noah Vonleh had 12 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks, and Will Sheehey and Troy Williams each scored 11 points, but the Hoosiers had 11 turnovers in the second half.
“Just taking care of the ball, we need to get better at that,” Vonleh said.
The Hoosiers fell to 2-7 away from Assembly Hall this season. They led comfortably the whole first half, by double digits at times, just as at Nebraska on Jan. 30. The win over Michigan last week became less satisfying when sandwiched by those letdowns.
“It’s not a possession-to-possession league,” coach Tom Crean said. “It’s a pass-to-pass league. That’s why it’s the best league in the country. You’ve got to be locked in to every pass.”
Mathieu had two of Minnesota’s seven steals.
The Gophers took their first lead, 50-49, with less than 11 minutes left when Malik Smith faked a shot and with a midair pass found Walker wide open for an uncontested layup. Smith banked in a 3-pointer a little later.
Then with 3:14 remaining, Hollins, just like Smith did a few minutes earlier, passed up a jumper and threaded the ball inside for Elliott Eliason and another easy layup for a 60-56 Gophers lead.
Vonleh’s layup off a steal underneath the basket brought the Hoosiers within 62-60 with 41 seconds left, but Mathieu sealed it with his redemptive drive.
“We’re a good bounce-back team. We fix our mistakes really well the next time out,” Hollins said.
The stakes weren’t the same as last February when the Hoosiers arrived at Williams Arena ranked first in the Associated Press poll. The Gophers put together their best performance of that season for a 77-73 victory they likely wouldn’t have made the NCAA tournament without, and the fans swarmed the court in celebration afterward.
The atmosphere felt almost the same, though, with a capacity crowd packed into the old arena on another cold night.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino was in attendance to watch his son Richard guide the Gophers, with another son, Ryan, sitting next to him – wearing a bright yellow chicken suit. Former Minnesota coach Clem Haskins, whose 1989 team that reached the NCAA regional semifinals was honored at a halftime ceremony, was here, too, along with several players from that season.
The Gophers needed to win this in the worst way, with the Big Ten’s ballooning middle threatening to push them aside after a strong start highlighted by decisive home wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin. Looming down the stretch are road games against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan, with the rematch against the Badgers up next week.
With Walker, who started the second half, and Eliason, the Gophers have built a low-post game that ought to give them a chance in all of those games.
“I’ll take a layup over a 3 any day,” Hollins said. “They’re getting confidence, and they’re getting better.”
Even Pitino acknowledged the evolution of the offense that began as a fast-breaking, 3-point-shooting, perimeter-based scheme. The Gophers haven’t made enough outside shots to make that work, so they’ve turned to their big men on the block for many of their key baskets.
Mathieu’s driving ability is still a major asset, though, when he’s under control. After totaling 19 turnovers over those last three losses, he had just one on Saturday.