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Friday, March 12, 2010
Gophers survive and boost tourney hopes

By Adam Rittenberg

INDIANAPOLIS -- Forty-eight hours ago, the Big Ten seemed in danger of sending only four teams to the NCAA tournament.

Now the league might get six.

After Illinois upset Wisconsin earlier in the day, No. 6 seed Minnesota held on for a 72-67 overtime win against No. 3 seed Michigan State. The Gophers recorded their fourth win against a Top 25 opponent and now find themselves firmly on the bubble rather than the wrong side of it.

If Illinois is supposedly in the field of 65, how far behind are the Gophers?

The win wasn't easy, as Minnesota blew a 10-point, second-half lead and fell behind early in overtime.

Minnesota has endured a season of near misses, losing five games by three points or fewer, including 1-point home setbacks to both Michigan State and Purdue. Friday's game started to look like another one, as Michigan State closed regulation on a 15-5 run.

Then Devoe Joseph stepped in.

Joseph, who has been huge down the stretch in place of ineligible point guard Al Nolen, recorded 17 points, six rebounds and four assists to lead the Gophers (20-12). He swished two huge 3-pointers in overtime and provided tremendous leadership throughout.

The Gophers, who had forwards Colton Iverson (12 points) and Damian Johnson (8 points) both foul out, also received a big performance from guard Blake Hoffarber (14 points). Senior guard Lawrence Westbrook struggled but had a huge 3-point play in overtime.

Michigan State came out flat and struggled mightily at the foul line, hitting just 18 of 34 attempts. The Spartans really missed junior guard Chris Allen, suspended for the game for violating team policy. They needed Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers to carry a greater load, and both starters struggled for much of the game.

Things got heated in the closing minutes with several near fights, but Minnesota won the ultimate battle and will advance to face Purdue on Saturday.