The last time Minnesota’s men’s basketball team took on Purdue, the Gophers were coming off a pair of humbling home losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin. They subsequently were blasted by the Boilermakers 72-55 on Jan. 14.
Tonight’s 8 p.m. game at Williams Arena features a transformed Minnesota squad; a confident team that has won three home games in a row — all against top 20 teams.
“Well, you know home court advantage is always nice,” senior guard Vincent Grier said. “But, we got a lot of confidence going on some ranked teams wins. Hopefully, we can build on that.”
Since that loss to Purdue, the Gophers (13-10, 4-8 Big Ten) have juggled their lineup, inserting three former reserves into starting spots.
Not only a few upset wins, but it also has given Minnesota more depth, and that was something it certainly didn’t have the luxury of earlier this season.
Just seven players played more than one minute for Minnesota in their early season loss to Purdue, compared to nine against Iowa on Saturday.
“With the way coach (Dan Monson) is throwing new guys in the mix and everything, I really think it’s making guys have to step up if they want to play and if we want to do well,” sophomore center Spencer Tollackson said.
“I really think that (Monson) did a good job with that, and we’re playing better because of it, and certain guys are playing better, and that’s really what we need right now.”
Tollackson lost his starting role after playing Illinois, but has played well in his reserve role.
He scored 10 points off the bench Saturday against Iowa, sparking the Gophers’ victory.
Senior guard Maurice Hargrow also lost his starting job before the game against Indiana, but still has been a key contributor, especially in the Gophers’ Feb. 11 win against Michigan State when he scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting.
And while the Feb. 8 game against Penn State wasn’t as huge, sophomore forward Dan Coleman’s performance was. Coleman scored 16 points off the bench after losing his starting job before the game at Iowa.
“I think (the depth) is huge,” Monson said. “We’ve got some guys that have proven they can play at this level, with experience coming in and giving us good minutes — and I think our last three wins, one person off the bench has been a key.”
The key for the Boilermakers has been senior forward Matt Kiefer, who is averaging 12 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and as Tollackson describes, “is the heart and soul of that team.”
Purdue (9-15, 3-10 Big Ten) has struggled, losing seven of their past nine games and are a dismal 0-11 on the road this year.
That’s not a good statistic considering Minnesota has been unbeatable at home as of late.
“We’ve been dictating everything as far as the intensity and the energy level (at home),” Tollackson said. “As much as we do have to control (Kiefer), I think we’re kind of just more concerned about ourselves and need to control ourselves at this point.”
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