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Mbakwe gets tough, helps Minnesota upset No. 1 Indiana

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- Trevor Mbakwe said he was embarrassed with how he and his Minnesota teammates played in a pair of recent blowout losses. The Gophers certainly don't have to be embarrassed with what happened Tuesday night.

With Mbakwe bringing energy from the opening tip and the rest of the Gophers following along, Minnesota was simply tougher than Indiana in a 77-73 upset of the top-ranked Hoosiers.

The Gophers lost their past two games by a combined 47 points, but they dominated the Hoosiers on the backboards. And Tubby Smith's team made better decisions down the stretch.

As a result, Minnesota secured its first upset of the nation's No. 1 team since 1989 and the Williams Arena floor was stormed by fans for the first time in at least decades.

"We wanted to come out and start fresh," said Mbakwe, a sixth-year senior who led all scorers with a season-high 21 points and 12 rebounds. "We had a great opportunity to have the No. 1 team come in and you want to play your best.

"We had a couple of No. 1 teams come in here in the past and we haven't played too well."

After a quiet first half, Andre Hollins finished with 16 points for Minnesota (19-9, 7-8 Big Ten) while Joe Coleman scored nine.

Indiana coach Tom Crean, who coached Mbakwe for a year at Marquette, wasn't surprised to see how his former player performed.

"He's a high-level, high-energy tough guy playing at a desperate level," Crean said. "That's a grown man, he's one of the best rebounders in the country. He was the toughest guy on the court tonight."

That toughness led to rebounds and, in turn, to too many second-chance points for Minnesota.

"We weren't nearly good enough rebounding," Crean said. "We weren't physical enough, we didn't create the first hit. There were too many shots that went up and they were on the ball first."

Jordan Hulls led Indiana with 17 points while added Victor Oladipo finished with 16. Yogi Ferrell finished with 10 for the Hoosiers. Cody Zeller didn't make a field goal for more than 34 minutes and finished with nine points on 2-for-9 shooting.

By losing, Indiana (24-4, 12-3) allowed the Big Ten race to become tighter. The Hoosiers had won nine out of 10 games, but now lead Michigan State by one game in the Big Ten standings with three games to play. Had the Hoosiers won, they would have needed only one more victory to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title.

The importance of the victory wasn't lost on Minnesota coach Tubby Smith. Minnesota entered the game having lost two in a row, eight of 11 and were in danger of falling into ninth place in the Big Ten standings.

"I think they knew how important this game was," Smith said. "We do need to play with a little edge. Trevor set that tone and the other players picked up on that."

Added Austin Hollins: "Trevor was just a beast out there -- on the boards, in the paint, he was unstoppable. He was scoring, playing defense, he was doing what it took to win the game. He really put us on his back tonight and carried this team."

Minnesota was certainly the tougher team down the stretch. The game was tied with five minutes to play and Indiana even took a brief 59-58 lead when Zeller completed a 3-point play with 4:39 to play. But, the Gophers immediately answered by throwing a long pass to Austin Hollins who caught the ball and went in for his own 3-point play with 4:36 to play.

After Indiana turned the ball over, Andre Hollins used a very good Elliot Elliason screen and buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key that extended Minnesota's lead to 64-59 with 3:45 to play.

Those two baskets sparked a 10-2 run for the Gophers as Minnesota scored on four consecutive possessions and took a 68-61 lead when Coleman dunked with 2:35 to play. As was case much of the night, Indiana struggled to get key baskets from there on. Over the final five minutes of the game, Minnesota scored 21 points and Indiana never got closer than four until Hulls made a 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds to play.

NOTES: The month of February has not been kind to Minnesota in recent years. The Gophers were 3-4 this month. Over the past three Februarys, Minnesota was 5-17. ... With two more home games, the Hoosiers are still in good position to secure at least a share of the Big Ten title. Indiana will host Iowa and Ohio State before ending the regular season with what will be an anticipated game at Michigan. ... The Gophers host Penn State in their home finale Saturday. Minnesota closes the regular season with road games at Purdue and Nebraska. ... Minnesota Timberwolves general manager David Kahn was among the NBA scouts in attendance.
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