Amir Coffey matched his career with 32 points, making two free throws with 2.5 seconds left Tuesday night to seal Minnesota’s 73-69 victory over No. 11 Purdue to give the Gophers a big boost for an NCAA Tournament berth and spoil the Boilermakers’ bid for an outright Big Ten title.
Carsen Edwards scored 22 points for Purdue (22-8, 15-4), but he needed 31 shots to get there and finished just 3 for 15 from 3-point range. The Boilermakers, who had their five-game winning streak broken and lost for only the second time in their last 15 games, fell into a three-way tie for first place in the conference with Michigan and Michigan State. The Wolverines and Spartans play each other this weekend, so the best the Boilermakers can do is tie for the regular-season title.
Jordan Murphy had all 13 of his points in the first half to go with 14 rebounds, with fellow seniors Dupree McBrayer (10 points, four rebounds, four assists) and Matz Stockman (nine points, six rebounds, seven blocks) also playing key roles for the Gophers (19-11, 9-10).
Ryan Cline scored 19 points for Purdue, making six of nine 3-pointers including a pair that came 23 seconds apart sandwiching a turnover by Minnesota and cut the lead to 64-61 with 3:06 left. The Gophers were up 68-61 after McBrayer made two free throws with 2:05 remaining, but Coffey missed three of four free throws on consecutive possessions before a 3-pointer by Edwards brought the Boilermakers within 71-69 with 5.2 seconds to go.
The Gophers nearly had the ball stolen on an errant inbound pass but maintained possession after a replay review. The next time they got the ball safely to Coffey, who was coming off his first career double-double with 31 points and 12 rebounds in a win at Northwestern, for the final pair of foul shots.
Nojel Eastern had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Grady Eifert added 13 points and 14 rebounds for the Boilermakers, who had won 47 of their last 57 regular-season Big Ten games. They were trying to become the first team since Ohio State in 2006 and 2007 to win two outright titles in a three-year span, having also taken the regular-season crown in 2017.
The Boilermakers had a 21-9 edge in second-chance points, including Eifert’s putback at the halftime buzzer to bring them within 37-27, and the Gophers sure weren’t counting on their opponent wilting down the stretch. Purdue’s 9-0 run tied the game at 54, the only time in the last 31:35 that Minnesota didn’t lead.
STELLAR SENIOR NIGHT
The Gophers honored with the requisite pregame ceremony their five seniors on the roster, including a rousing introduction as the “sixth man” of Jarvis Johnson, an acclaimed hometown recruit who was prevented from playing at all in college by a heart condition. McBrayer received an especially big ovation as he hugged his aunt, standing in for his late mother, Tayra McFarlane, who died Dec. 3 of cancer .
Murphy gave the Gophers his usual yeoman’s effort underneath to help offset their season-long struggle with the 3-point shot. Their high-low passing has been one of their best assets in a half-court offense that has often lagged, and Murphy was a frequent beneficiary.
Stockman, the 7-foot transfer from Louisville wrapping up his only season at Minnesota, ably assumed a much larger role in with backup big man Eric Curry lost for the season to a foot injury. Coffey just kept attacking the basket.
The Boilermakers have one of the most efficient offenses in the country by any statistical measure, but the Gophers gave them plenty of trouble in the first half, particularly in the paint. Matt Haarms, the 7-foot-3 sophomore who brought the best field goal percentage (64.5) in the Big Ten into the game, missed seven of his eight shots and finished with just three points.
Purdue: Edwards, the leading scorer in the Big Ten, is bound to bounce back from this off-kilter shooting performance. More concerning for the Boilermakers, though, was the zero points they received from their bench.
Minnesota: With the pressure on coach Richard Pitino to reach the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in six seasons, this was one of the biggest wins of his career with the Gophers. After faltering at home last month against Wisconsin and Michigan, they finally put together a complete performance against a Top 25 team.
Purdue: Plays at last-place Northwestern on Saturday afternoon. With a double bye and a spot in the quarterfinals secured, the first Big Ten tournament game for the Boilermakers will be on March 15.
Minnesota: Concludes the regular season conference schedule on Friday night at No. 24 Maryland, with a 2-8 record on the road this season. The Gophers will start the Big Ten tournament in the second round on March 14.
(story and photo courtesy of Gopher Sports)