Having lost six of their last eight games, Minnesota was in danger of falling out of the bottom half of the Big Ten standings with a loss to No. 20 Wisconsin.
But two Joe Coleman free throws with 17.4 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 49, and from there the Golden Gophers would go on to pick up a much-needed 58-53 victory. That halts the slide (2-6 in the eight games prior to tonight) that had some ready to run Tubby Smith out of Minneapolis.
The ugly showing on the offensive end however? That may be something that Minnesota fans have to get used to down the stretch.
Andre Hollins shot 5-of-16 from the field but finished with 21 points as offense was hard to come by for both teams, and his three halfway through overtime sealed the deal. Regardless of the offensive struggles Minnesota simply needed a victory with games against Ohio State and Indiana looming (after a trip to Iowa this weekend).
“We want to simplify things,” Smith said following the game. “One of the things that we’ve been doing is having Dre run a lot of stuff, call a lot of different plays, and I just said, ‘Lets narrow it down.’ I wanted him to get out and run more because everybody focuses on him. He’s our leading scorer.”
Minnesota shot 36.9% tonight but made enough trips to the foul line to gut out the victory, shooting 18-of-24 from the charity stripe and outscoring Wisconsin by eight (18-10).
Also of note was the fact that Wisconsin shot 11-of-31 from inside the arc, and even with the Badgers scoring nearly 35% of their points on three-pointers Bo Ryan’s team needs to hit their two-point shots at a decent rate in order to keep opponents honest. Minnesota was able to do enough defensively to limit Wisconsin’s quality two-point looks, which allowed them to remain within striking distance after a slow start.
Thursday’s win wasn’t pretty and anyone connected with it will express the desire to play better, but Minnesota simply needed the result against their rival. They can worry about the aesthetics of the result on Friday.
“That was a real big win for us. We were coming in on a losing streak and we needed something to pick us up,” said Williams.
“We have a lot of people down on us right now but we know what we are capable of and how good we can be and I think this win can put us back to how we were.”