“It sent chills down my spine,” IU guard Verdell Jones after his clutch shooting chilled Minnesota 81-78 Sunday and caused a storm-the-court student celebration.
“I was surprised they did that,” Jones said. “I didn’t think it was that kind of game.”
Here’s what kind of game it was — IU had a crunch-time breakthrough to improve to 8-9 overall, 2-3 in the Big Ten, one more conference victory than it had last season, two more wins overall.
“Indiana proved they have matured,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. “They learned their lesson and responded in the right way.”
Remember the blown 15-point lead to Illinois eight days earlier at Assembly Hall? The Hoosiers did and then forgot it.
“You don’t want to think like that or it will happen again,” Jones said. “My stomach was sick for two days after we lost that game. We didn’t want that to happen again.”
When Minnesota (12-6, 3-3) cranked up the heat, IU cranked it right back. Jones overcame some brief free throw demons — missing five in the final 22 seconds of regulation and overtime — to save the day with seven overtime points, a career-high 24 total along with seven rebounds. Forward Christian Watford grabbed a back-breaking rebound and swished two free throws to clinch it, although nothing was assured until Minnesota sharpshooter Devoe Joseph’s last-second 27-footer hit nothing but iron.
“This is a great confidence builder,” forward Bobby Capobianco said. “It’s something to look back on and take from it to get a road win and get on a roll.”
Jones made the roll possible by hitting a couple of cold-blooded jumpers, including the fading turnaround game winner in front of visiting Indiana Pacer Roy Hibbert.
“I know Roy,” Jones said. “He played with us in the summer a few times. It’s a good feeling to have a pro player sitting up front and cheering you on.”
Missing the cheer was Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, whose team lost for the third time in four games.
“Verdell was outstanding in getting to the free throw line. He forced us to foul him quite a bit. I don’t know if we were fouling him, but they were being called.
“He’s talented. He’s long, athletic, a very smart player. He knows how to use his body and draw fouls.”
Minnesota was a good enough rebounding team to battle Michigan State to a rebound draw in East Lansing four days earlier. Yet the Hoosiers, who hadn’t out-rebounded anybody in Big Ten play, thrived. They finished with a 43-31 advantage.
“Rebounding was the No. 1 key,” coach Tom Crean said. “That became a bigger battle cry after the way Northwestern out-rebounded Purdue. That’s the mentality we have to have. We’re learning from other teams. If Northwestern can out-rebound a very good Purdue team, we’d better figure out a way to do that against Minnesota.”
Minnesota has thrived with turnover-causing pressure and the Hoosiers were not immune. They had seven turnovers in eight minutes before settling down and getting just seven more the rest of the game. They finished with 16 assists.
“(Minnesota) leads the league in steals and turnover margin,” Crean said, “so we had to figure out a way. We don’t win with a couple more turnovers.”
With reserve guard Devan Dumes setting the off-the-bench tone, IU rocked Minnesota early by controlling the boards 15-2, the shooting (53.3 percent to 25 percent) and the hustle. It built a 28-14 lead with Dumas totaling 11 points (he finished with 13). But the Gophers ended the half on a 22-12 run to trail 40-36 at halftime.
Capobianco and Jordan Hulls opened the second half with three-pointers. Jeremiah Rivers blocked a shot. Hulls added another three-pointer. The Hoosiers pushed ahead 59-44 with 14 minutes left and Smith called a timeout to stop the surge. It worked, Minnesota scored eight straight points to get back in the game. It forced overtime on consecutive Devoe Joseph jumpers in the final 30 seconds.
Joseph continued his hot streak with a pair of three-pointers to give Minnesota a five-point overtime lead. Then Gopher forwards Ralph Sampson and Paul Carter fouled out. Jones’ 6-0 run gave IU the lead. Watford’s rebound — giving him 10 for his third double-double of the season and first since mid November — and free throws provided the final margin.
“It was fitting it came down to a big defensive board,” Crean said. “I’m very proud of our effort. There were so many times we could have folded and we didn’t.”