When Minnesota needed a win, it came through.
In a shootout at Williams Arena, the Gophers upset No. 19 Iowa Hawkeyes 95-89 in a back and forth game from the start. Minnesota shot a scalding 58 percent from the field. Leading the way for the Gophers was Austin Hollins who scored a career-high 27 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-6 from downtown. Charles Buggs, a freshman forward who came into the game averaging a mere 0.8 points per game, rose to the occasion and finished with 13 points.
Roy Devyn Marble played well for the Hawkeyes (19-8, 8-6) as he scored 24 points. Aaron White also had a solid game with 21 points, but the Minnesota offense was just too much for Iowa.
With Minnesota (18-11, 7-9) squarely on the bubble coming into Tuesday night’s game and only a few opportunities to improve its resume remaining, the Gophers came to play. Losing six of eight in conference play won’t get you into the NCAA tournament, but beating teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI rankings will.
The Gophers now have four victories over teams in the RPI Top 50 including Wisconsin (No. 5 in RPI), Ohio State (No. 19) Richmond (No. 49) and Iowa (No. 28) after today’s much-needed win. Minnesota has another golden opportunity on Saturday to add another RPI Top 50 win as it travels to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan (No. 14).
If Minnesota can knock off Michigan on the road, it would be a huge step toward securing a tournament bid. But even if the Gophers take down the Wolverines, it would be in the best interest of Richard Pitino‘s squad to get a win or two in the upcoming Big Ten tournament next month.
If you’re a team that is already a lock for the Big Dance, conference tournaments are a tuneup. But for bubble teams such as Minnesota, the conference tournaments are a perfect time to make a statement to the selection committee. Minnesota has a shot, but it needs to take things one game at a time.
Tuesday night’s victory was step one. Now the Gophers must shift their focus to step two on Saturday.