Minnesota outrebounded Indiana by 14 -- and beat the top-ranked Hoosiers, 77-73.
MINNEAPOLIS (WDRB) – Maybe in April Indiana shrugs at the basketball game the Hoosiers lost to Minnesota, 77-73, here in Williams Arena Wednesday night.
Just one of those magical games when Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe played like the baddest man in the Big Ten. A night when Cody Zeller did not do much – and Christian Watford did even less.
A 40-minute dance of soft play that inspired the expected hard rush of the court by the Minnesota students because the nation's top-ranked team went down. Duke loses. Kansas loses. Michigan State loses. Everybody loses. Heck, Indiana had already lost as the nation's Number One team against Butler and Illinois.
That's probably the way this thing plays out. A one-game blip that Tom Crean will fix by the time the Hoosiers return to Assembly Hall to play Iowa Saturday night. No big deal. The Hoosiers (12-3) still lead Michigan State by a game in the Big Ten race.
But you can count on this: Everybody who plays the Hoosiers will try to follow the script that Tubby Smith gave to his relentless Minnesota team.
Be tougher than Indiana. Push Indiana. Go at Indiana, especially Zeller and Watford. Don't be afraid to go directly to the rim against Indiana. Initiate contact against Indiana. Find out precisely how blue-collar the Hoosiers want to be.
Will they play through a bloody lip?
Not on Tuesday night. Not early. Not late.
"They were relentless on the glass and we just didn't do a good job of boxing them out," said Victor Oladipo of Indiana. "We paid for it. It seemed like they got every loose ball."
Mbakwe, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound mound of muscle, scored Minnesota's first basket on a layup. He scored the Gophers' second basket on a short jump shot. He scored their third basket on a dunk. Trevor Mbakwe never backed up.
"That's a high-level player," said Crean, who signed Mbakwe at Marquette. "He's a high-level, high-energy tough guy, that plays the game at a desperate level. He was the toughest guy on the court tonight, and we did not answer the bell there."
Mbakwe had six points in the first 2 ½ minutes. Zeller and Watford did not have a combined six points for the first 31 minutes. Neither one of Indiana's big men had a basket until nearly seven minutes had been played in the second half. They were MIA.
Mbakwe kept going. And going. And going. He finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds. He looked like the most complete inside player in the Big Ten – and made Zeller looks like he needed a junior season in college. Zeller finished nine points, missing seven of nine shots. He had seven rebounds, five more than Watford, who only scored eight.
"You've got to make (Zeller) play both ends of the court," Smith said. "We wanted to run a lot of people at him. We did what we could to negate his skill set."
Not many people have a Trevor Mbakwe. Ohio State has DeShaun Thomas. Wisconsin has Ryan Evans, but he can't score the way Mbakwe can.
But this is the part of the Minnesota tape that is more likely to get Crean's attention. Minnesota outscored the Hoosiers in the paint, 40-22. Points from offensive rebounds were also lopsided – 21-8 in favor of the Gophers. It wasn't only Mbakwe. It was a team thing. The Gophers had 23 offensive rebounds and outrebounded IU, 44-30.
"We weren't physical enough on the glass," Crean said.
There is a two-minute clip from the middle of the second half that Crean is not going to like. There was Elliott Eliason, a 6-11 post player without muscle, scoring seven straight points as Minnesota erased a 46-39 Indiana lead. Elliott Eliason averages 1.9 points per game. He had not scored seven points in a game this season.
That was not Trevor Mbakwe scoring three straight baskets. That was a guy who had not scored three baskets in Minnesota's last three games.
Trevor Mbakwe can happen. Elliott Eliason cannot happen – not if you expect to win the Big Ten and do great things in the NCAA Tournament.
"It's one of the tougher losses we've had," Oladipo said. "We felt like we did a great job of preparing. It's a long season left, as you guys know. We're trying to do big things. We've got to learn from this mistake and dust it off real fast.
"Winning the Big Ten was going to be tough whether we won today or lost today. Now it's even tougher."