But somehow, a Minnesota squad that had lost its first four Big Ten games this season – and 13 of its past 14 – pulled off a 77-74 upset of No. 8 Indiana on Thursday night in Bloomington, Ind.
“It feels great. We were 0-4 going into Indiana. To get the win, it’s a huge win,” Austin Hollins (career-high 18 points), the son of Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins, told ESPN.com. “We play in a really tough league. I don’t think [we were] thinking about 0-5. We were thinking that anything can happen in any game. … We had to keep our heads up and keep our confidence up.”
Both the Wildcats and the Buckeyes, ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, at the time, lost at Assembly Hall earlier this season. The Hoosiers were undefeated at home entering Thursday’s game.
A Gophers team playing without one first-round draft pick on its roster and competing sans its best player (Trevor Mbakwe suffered a season-ending knee injury in November), however, bullied the Hoosiers on the boards (16 offensive rebounds) and strangled the No. 1 3-point shooting team in the country. The Hoosiers had made 48 percent of their 3-point attempts entering the game but connected on just 4 of 18 against Minnesota (their starters were 1-for-12).
Even Cody Zeller’s career-high 23 points weren’t enough to help the Hoosiers avoid their sixth loss in eight games against the Gophers.
“We played solid [defense]. We got up in their faces. We switched when a switch was needed,” Hollins said. “We really focused on it in practice. We came out here and executed on defense.”
It was Tubby Smith’s first true road win against a top-10 team as Gophers coach and his sixth overall against a top-10 squad.
By now, you’ve read the box score, so you know the numbers.
But you might not know the recent history.
Every time that Smith has taken his Gophers to the state of Indiana to face the Hoosiers, a dramatic matchup has ensued.
Days after suffering a double-digit loss to the Hoosiers in Bloomington, the Gophers beat a nationally ranked Indiana squad in the 2008 Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis via Blake Hoffarber’s turnaround buzzer-beater (the shot earned Hoffarber his second ESPY nomination).
Two years later, Verdell Jones (who chose the Hoosiers over the Gophers) hit a jump shot to seal Indiana’s three-point victory in overtime at Assembly Hall.
And last season – after officials decided to proceed with the game in the middle of an ice storm that shut down Bloomington – a nationally ranked Gophers squad fell to a Hoosiers team that ultimately won three Big Ten games.
Rodney Williams said Minnesota’s recent rivalry with the Hoosiers, especially last season’s road loss, was on his mind entering Thursday’s matchup.
“Me personally, I had that in the back of my mind a little,” the junior forward (12 points) said. “My freshman year, it was a really close game as well. This is one of the toughest places in college basketball to play. The loudest gym I’ve ever been in. It was getting so loud that the rim was shaking.”
For the Gophers, the victory might help them salvage their season. For the Hoosiers, the game was a lesson on the consistent toughness that league play demands.
For those who’ve followed this matchup in recent years, it was simply the norm.