The at-large bid chances are long gone for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. And it took another hit tonight. They were on the bubble until they hit a three games losing streak, all against Big Ten bubble teams (Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Penn State Nittany Lions).
Now their path to a NCAA bid is the exact same as the Northwestern Wildcats- run the conference tournament table or else. Wednesday night provided a chance to see who, if either of the two teams, could be more likely to make that miracle run.
And if league standings hold, they’ll get the chance to eliminate one another on the very first day of the tournament, as they’re slotted for the Thursday #8 vs.#9 game.
By Paul M. Banks
Expect that to be a very emotional and chippy game, as these two teams got physical with each other early and often in this one.
It was senior night in Evanston, and the only Northwestern senior of note, Michael “Juice” Thompson, struggled mightily with his shot, but got it going late. He started 1-8 in the first half, put up another 1-8 in the second half before hitting two big threes down the stretch to help secure the win for the Cats.
“I defintley let my emotions get to me in the first half,” Thompson said. “But it’s a credit to my teammates for stepping up and carrying me.”
Thompson, the school’s all-times assists and minutes leader, iced the game with free throws, and finished with a game-high 18 points. As he has so many times this year, he willed the Cats to victory by taking all the big shots down the stretch.
The Cats struggled for 25 minutes, but took the lead for good in the final ten minutes as sophomore guard Alex Marcotullio took over from long range. He finished 3-7 from the behind the arc, and tied with Thompson for a game-leading 18 points.
“It was really a good effort as a team, and it seemed Al was all over the court, getting his hand on some balls, and he made some big shots for us,” NU Coach Bill Carmody said.
The Cats were able to clinch the game by attacking the rim, getting to the foul line and converting their foul shots.
“It’s just hard work, practice, and confidence, and that put us over the edge,” said Marcotullio.
Should the Gophers somehow win the BTT and earn their third straight NCAA bid, it would be the first time in school history that the Gophers made three consecutive trips to the NCAAs.
Written by Paul M. Banks, President and CEO of The Sports Bank.net, a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports
He does a weekly radio segment on Chicagoland Sports Radio.com and Cleveland.com
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank