There aren’t many teams around the country — regardless of league affiliation — that started out conference play with a more rigorous schedule than the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
At Wisconsin. At Michigan state. Home for Indiana. At Ohio State.
They started 1-3. Guess who the win came against. (Hint: you’re right.)
Game five wasn’t any easier, as Purdue paid a visit to the Barn on Thursday. And despite 29 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks from JaJuan Johnson — who absolutely manhandled the Minnesota front line; Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson, and Trevor Mbakwe combined for 19 points and 14 rebounds (Mbakwe had 10 boards himself) — the Gophers picked up a 70-67 win.
Minnesota did it with defense. They held E’Twaun Moore to just five points on 2-14 shooting from the field. Ryne Smith, who had been averaging 17.0 ppg in Big Ten play, managed to get off just four threes, hitting one. As a team, Purdue shot just 38.3% from the floor. They hit their last field goal at the 9:25 mark. Their last point was a free throw with 3:41 left in the game.
That free throw tied the score at 67. Al Nolen, who had 13 points and eight assists, hit a clutch three at the other end to give Minnesota a 70-67 lead with 3:17 left to play. And that was it. The Gophers got stops down the stretch to hold on for the win.
Blake Hoffarber led the way for Minnesota with 26 points and four assists as the Gophers moved to 2-3 in league play. With three of their most difficult road trips already out of the way, Minnesota could be in much worse shape right now.