MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The 18th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes headed into Saturday’s game at Minnesota eyeing their first outright Big Ten regular-season title in 36 years.
Minnesota made things a bit more complicated.
Vincent Grier scored 18 points to lead the Gophers to their third straight home victory over a ranked team with a 74-61 win over the Hawkeyes.
Adam Boone had 12 points and Jamal Abu-Shamala added 11 for the Gophers (13-10, 4-8 Big Ten), while Zach Puchtel and Spencer Tollackson each had 10 points.
“For a team that’s 4-8, 3-8 going in, they showed some character,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said.
Iowa (20-7, 9-4) was coming off its sixth victory in seven games after beating No. 16 Michigan State on Tuesday, which padded its lead in the Big Ten to a full game.
“If we got this one, we could have really set ourselves up real nice,” Iowa’s Greg Brunner said. “But it didn’t happen. We’ve just got to make sure that we continue with our run.”
In their previous meeting, Iowa beat Minnesota 76-72 in triple overtime, thanks to Brunner’s 17 points and 23 rebounds and Erek Hansen’s career-high 20 points.
On Saturday Monson played his two centers, Puchtel and Tollackson, together to defend the paint. Brunner scored 17 to lead Iowa but was held to seven rebounds. Hansen was completely shut down, finishing with three points and one rebound. Jeff Horner added 13 points.
“We knew we had to keep Brunner and big Hansen off the boards,” Grier said.
Minnesota, which played in front of a season-high 14,308 fans, entered the game 2-5 against ranked teams this season. But those two wins were impressive victories over Indiana and Michigan State at Williams Arena. And the Gophers stuck to the formula that earned them those double-digit victories, playing an aggressive defense that limited Iowa to 19-for-46 shooting from the field.
This game, though, wasn’t decided until the final minutes.
After trading baskets to start the second half, Iowa scored 10 straight points to take the lead. The Hawkeyes clogged the lane to take away Minnesota’s inside game, which had been so effective in the first half. The Gophers had 24 points in the paint in the first half, but didn’t get an inside basket for nearly 13 minutes in the second.
Horner hit a 3-pointer at the 10:32 mark and Adam Haluska hit three foul shots after Boone fouled him on a 3-point attempt to give Iowa a 51-50 lead with just over 10 minutes to play.
But Minnesota responded with an 11-3 run by moving the ball and finding easy shots.
“They took it to us down low,” Brunner said. “They pounded the glass. We struggled a little bit defensively.”
Hansen’s dunk with 3:41 to play pulled Iowa to 61-58, but the Hawkeyes wouldn’t get any closer as Minnesota scored nine of its final 11 points on free throws.
“We’re down to the last two weeks,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “Three-and-0, you probably win it outright. Two-and-one, you get a chance to get a share of it. That’s why it’s going to be very exciting.”
Just as they did against the Hoosiers and Spartans, the Gophers jumped on Iowa early with a mix of aggressive defense and accurate shooting.
Iowa slowed the Gophers for a brief span late in the first half while scoring six straight points to pull to 28-27 with 3:16 to play in the half. But Tollackson scored on two straight possessions for Minnesota and had a nice feed to Grier for an easy layup to give the Gophers some breathing room.
Boone’s layup just beat the halftime buzzer to give Minnesota a 38-29 lead. It tied Iowa’s largest halftime deficit of the season.