I’ve watched more Gopher basketball games than I can count, sitting in The Barn when it was all bench seats, squashed between people 10 times my size, trying to see through small gaps between the people in front of me, following the game more by sound than by sight, because when you are 5 years old and you feel five inches tall, there is only so much you can do.
I saw the Gophers rise through the 90’s, the Final Four run, the magical night at Williams arena when the team returned after beating UCLA, standing in line for hours looking at a comet that won’t be back for a few thousand years wondering if that is how long it would be until another Gopher basketball team played in early April.
Then I watched the fall, the disgrace, the endless rebuilding, and it seemed like a few thousand years wouldn’t be long enough. The team I grew up with seemed destined to failure.
The comet isn’t back, but lightening has struck twice, twice.
With one left handed, one handed, side arm scoop shot from the left elbow, without a solid grip on the ball, Blake Hoffarber simultaneously, somehow, combined the heroics of Christian Laettner’s turnaround jumper to win the greatest college basketball game ever played, and some how, even more impressively, made a shot more miraculous than his by now world famous game tieing on his back basket in the 2005 Minnesota State Highschool Championship game. For the next few years, this will simply be known as the shot.
ESPN has video too.
One point five seconds is a long enough time. For the Gophers it was long enough to overcome a disastrous previous two minutes. With just over two minutes to play, a foul plagued Dan Coleman pulled down an offensive rebound from a missed Lawrence Westbrook free throw, and put in a strong lay-up. After out-playing and out-scoring Indiana for the vast majority of teams two previous meeting, and for a good portion of tonight’s game, Minnesota had a 5 point, and it seemed that after three very winnable games, the Gophers would come away with one win.
Then Jim Delaney, proving that Benjamin Linus’s apparent mind control capabilities aren’t necessarily confined to the realm of horribly convoluted Thursday dramas on ABC, and that Angela Lansbury should never be trusted. The Big Ten, its corporate sponsors, CBS, the State of Indiana, and the vast majority of the basketball watching world didn’t want the Gophers to win. Everyone wanted to see the Indiana Hoosiers play the Purdue Boilermakers, a great rivalry that would have been played in downtown Indianapolis in one of the best basketball arenas in the country on National television. After Illinois finally played as well as they capable and beat Purdue in over time, the Big Ten and all the powers that be still had a plan B. After all the controversy surrounding Bruce Weber vs. Eric Gordon vs. The Orange Krush vs. Eric Gordon’s parents, there would still be plenty of people in the stands and enough curious fans at home that would be willing to watch a basketball game that would have been more reminiscent of a battle between the surrogates of the Clinton and Obama campaigns. But Minnesota and Illinois? No one wanted to see that, and why would they? Two not particularly interesting teams with no real hopes of an NCAA tourmanent bid playing eachother in a game with a predetermined outcome (will the Gophers ever beat Illinois?).
I don’t blame referees for costing teams a win. Of course there are a few inexcusable examples every year of calls and no calls that do cost cost teams a win, but there are rare instance when the timing of the call often matters more than the call itself. Tonight this almost happened.
With four seconds left and the Gophers up two, Eric Gordon attempted his 11th and 12th free throws of the night. He missed the first, forcing him to try to attempt to miss the second. His free throw hung on the rim for an impossibly long time, allowing DJ White to swoop in, after an obvious lane violation, for a rebound, a put back, and a foul that didn’t actually happen to tie the game. As if some Karmic force had taken up the Gopher’s cause against the corporate beheamoth that is post-season college basketball, DJ White missed his 1fth free throw of the game, but got his own rebound again, was fouled again, and this time made his 17th and final free throw of the game. With 1.5 seconds left, the Gophers on the wrong end of the court, and everything but hope lost, the Hoosiers called a time out.
Tubby Smith spent the entire play scribbling on his white board, drawing more lines covering more distance than anyone would be able to cover in 1.5 seconds. Despite the scribbling, everyone knew that there was really only one play that would work: every one go deep. They did, and it worked. A lot of lessons have been learned since “The Shot” and the countless successful Hail Marys that fill the highlights every football season. Guard the in-bounds passer, and knock the ball down. The Hoosier defended the play as well as they could have, forcing Travis Busch, the passer, to run up and down the end line, and to throw a high lofting pass into a crowd of four players. It just so happened that the shortest player caught the ball, turned, shot, and became a youtube legend again.
It was no small feat to be in the position for a miracle, and while Blake Hoffarber will get the credit for the win, Damian Johnson should get the credit for getting them there. Johson came out confident and firing, scoring 7 of the Gophers first 9 points on the way to a career high 17 points. Sparked by Johnson, the Gophers jumped out to a 24-9 lead, despite Dan Coleman collecting his second foul less than three minutes into the game, about a minute longer than it took him to collect two more fouls in the second half. Indiana came back, and even though Minnesota was unable to keep Indiana from going on a run of the type that allowed them to beat the Gophers earlier this season, Indiana was within 7 at the half.
The second half was more of the same, as Indiana consistently cut the lead to one possession, when the Gophers would put together a few stops and a few baskets, only to have Indiana to come right back to tie or take a miniscule lead, and that how it went, back and forth, to and fro until the pass, shot, and catch that you will be sick of seeing everytime the Gophers are on TV next season.
Who did what:
- The Gophers ended one of the more ridiculous streaks in college basketball, beating their first ranked team on the road when they were unranked in a very, very long time.
- Jonathan Williams started in place of Spencer Tollackson, and like the rest of the Gophers taller than 6’5″ suffered severe foul trouble. He did make his free throws, and in fact missed the teams only free throw on the night, going 3-4. The team made 15-16.
- Dan Coleman struggled with fouls, and only played 13 minutes, but during his brief time on the court he scored 6 points with 4 rebounds, including 3 offensive rebounds.
- Damian Johnson needed to step up, and he did. He scored a career high 17 points with 6 rebounds, 4 offensive, in 23 foul plagued minutes.
- Lawrence Westbrook continues his steady play. He didn’t need to be a hero tonight, but on the defensive end he was, holding Eric Gordon to 4-13 shooting and 0-6 three pointers with 5 turnovers.
- Lawrence McKenzie scored when it was needed. He had 15 points in a purely scoring role.
- Al Nolen played great defense as alway, and had 3 assists with no turnovers.
- Travis Busch was horrible on both ends of the court. Its amazing how one pass can make up for 11 minutes of worthlessness.
- Blake Hoffarber’s shooting woes continued until there was about half a second on the court, but his rebounding kept the Gophers alive. He had 5 boards, 3 offensive, on a night when the Gophers often had only one non-guard on the court at a time.
- Jamal Abu-Shamala played briefly and scored two points.