Akeem Springs couldn’t find his shooting stroke all evening.
The senior transfer was held scoreless for the first 32 minutes. He finished the night 2 of 13 from the floor.
And he left a hero.
It was a stroke of luck that found Springs as he rebounded his own miss off a deflection from freshman Eric Curry in the waning seconds, then put it back for an improbable game-winner with 3.2 seconds remaining. Indiana’s desperation 3 went begging at the buzzer, giving Minnesota a 75-74 win.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 16, 2017
Minnesota (19-7, 7-6) won its fourth straight game and bolstered its already-strong NCAA Tournament resume thanks to Springs’ timely shot.
Turns out, had the Gophers run the play correctly, the heroics may never have occurred.
Head coach Richard Pitino called for a dribble handoff to Amir Coffey, who had scored 17 points in the second half, but Jordan Murphy failed to set a ball screen on Coffey’s man. That forced Coffey to give the ball up the ice-cold Springs with 10 seconds to go.
“When I got the ball, I’m like, ‘Where’s Nate [Mason]?’ Didn’t find him,” recalled Springs. “Took a shot. I’m like, ‘God, I missed,’ and I just chased it down. I don’t even know how I finished.”
Mason would have been a much better option, considering he’d scored 30 points — one point off his career high. Alas, it was meant to be Coffey, who wound up getting the postgame television interview despite his season-worst shooting performance. “I knew he was going to get it on the rim or even make the basket,” said Mason. “I was satisfied with it.”
Pitino credited, not Springs, but Curry with making the “winning play,” as the head coach has coined throughout the season.
The Gophers had been getting hammered on the offensive rebounds throughout the second half, allowing the Hoosiers to grab 10 of 12 offensive boards and score 15 points off their own misses.
But the most pivotal offensive rebound went Minnesota’s way as Curry flew in from the weak side, leaped over a shorter Robert Johnson and tapped the ball toward Springs, who sealed the deal.
Pitino did, at least, throw Springs a bone for pursuing his own miss. “I told him, ‘When you were 1 for 12, you’d better follow your shot. You knew you were going to miss it.'”
UP NEXT: Minnesota hosts Michigan at 6 p.m. on Sunday for a chance to extend their winning streak. The Wolverines (16-9, 6-6) have won two consecutive games but must first play Wisconsin before traveling to Minnesota.