Big men help Gophers toward big dance

March, 13, 2010
3/13/10
6:33
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Of all the close losses Minnesota endured this season, two stand out.

[+] EnlargeRalph Sampson III
AP Photo/Michael ConroyRalph Sampson III had 13 points and five rebounds to help lift Minnesota past Purdue and into the Big Ten final.
The Gophers endured 1-point losses to both Michigan State and Purdue on their home court in Minneapolis. When quality wins mean everything, falling just short against two top 10 teams can make all the difference on Selection Sunday.

In a span of less than 24 hours at the Big Ten tournament, Minnesota has redeemed itself.

After upsetting Michigan State in overtime Friday, the No. 6 seed Golden Gophers crushed Purdue 69-42 to advance to Sunday's tournament championship against top seed Ohio State (CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET). The Gophers (21-12) held Purdue to a historically bad 11 first-half points and a miserable shooting percentage in the runaway victory.

Purdue clearly misses injured forward Robbie Hummel against opponents with any real size or length, and Minnesota boasts plenty of both.

Minnesota's big men really stepped up today, particularly Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson. Sampson came off of a scoreless performance against Michigan State to tally 13 points and five rebounds, while Iverson continued his strong Big Ten tournament with 11 points and six boards. Paul Carter (8 points, 10 rebounds) also provided a boost in the paint.

Minnesota was all smiles in the closing minutes, and for good reason. Back-to-back wins against ranked opponents gives the Gophers a very good chance at earning an NCAA tournament berth, regardless of what happens Sunday against Ohio State. Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi told me before Friday's game that if the Gophers were still playing on Sunday, they stood an excellent chance of making the NCAAs.

The Boilers got nothing from star guard E'Twaun Moore, who went 1-for-14 from the floor. Center JaJuan Johnson (17 points) was Purdue's only scoring option. After surviving a 1-for-11 start Friday against Northwestern, Purdue couldn't stay competitive with the Gophers.

Purdue shot 18.5 percent in the first half and finished with its lowest scoring total since at least 1950 (records before 1950 don't appear in the team's media guide, but the next fewest was 13 against Minnesota in 1982). According to ESPN Stats & Information, Purdue had the fourth lowest first-half total by a Big Ten team since 1996-97.

Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter said his team came here playing for a No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seed, with the latter two more likely. It'll be interesting to see how this performance impacts the selection committee's decision, as Purdue clearly isn't the same team without Hummel.

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