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February 27, 2013

Crushed on the glass

MINNEAPOLIS - No. 1-ranked Indiana got crushed on the glass in Tuesday night's road loss to Minnesota.

Trevor Mbakwe was behind the wheel of that semi that ran over and through the Hoosiers, and he had 18 extra reasons of motivation.

Eighteen NBA scouts were in Williams Arena as the Minnesota senior scored 21 points - his most in 42 games - and grabbed 12 rebounds, six on the offensive end, as the unranked Gophers knocked off the Hoosiers 77-73.

Minnesota's formula was simple: Be physical and relentless on the boards.

The Gophers outrebounded Indiana 44-30. The Hoosiers hadn't been outrebounded by more than three all season and that came in their 81-68 victory at No. 10 Ohio State.
Minnesota missed 36 shots. It rebounded 23 of them.

Game. Set. Match.

"There are a lot of things to look at, but there's nothing more glaring that the rebounding," IU coach Tom Crean said in a postgame news conference that didn't start until more than an hour after the game ended. "That was our biggest issue, second chance points, the fact that we had six offensive rebounds at the half and got four in the second half, the fact that they had nine in the first half and got 14 in the second half.

"That's the difference."

Whether or not the players were aware of the number of NBA scouts in the building Tuesday night, it's no secret in college basketball the NBA is paying close attention to Indiana 7-foot sophomore center and 6-foot-5 junior Victor Oladipo.
Where the Hoosiers go, NBA scouts go.

Want to make an impression on guys who make decisions at the next level? They're always around when you're playing Indiana.

Mbakwe, who turned 24 on Jan. 24, had a stellar performance.

"Were you one of the guys criticizing him?" Crean asked a reporter after the game. "I hope everyone that has will back off him a little bit. That's a high-level player.

"He's a high-level, high-energy tough guy that plays the game at a desperate level. Obviously, I'm biased but no shame in that. He's been in college a long time. He's endured a lot. When we were at Marquette and signed him, I didn't feel we'd have him two, maybe three years tops."

Mbakwe missed most of that season at Marquette with a leg injury, Crean took the head coaching job at Indiana, Mbakwe went to junior college, sat out another year then resurfaced at Minnesota.

He entered the game averaging 9.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, but he epitomized the Gophers' effort in their fourth win all-time against a No. 1 team. One of those four came in 1953, against a Hoosiers' squad that went on to win a national title.

Everything that can be accomplished prior to the NCAA Tournament - including a Big Ten regular-season championship and locking up a No. 1 seed - is still within reach for the Hoosiers. Whether Minnesota exposed a flaw or showed Indiana an area that needs constant attention remains to be seen.

"He played a great game," Oladipo said of Mbakwe, whose physical block of a Zeller layup attempt was a signature moment of the game. "He's the reason they won."

In a game that included seven ties and five lead changes, Minnesota had a 21-8 edge in offensive rebounds.

The offensive rebounding totals mattered, but so did the timing.

The game was tied at 48, when the Gophers got three offensive rebounds in one possession, leading to a 3-pointer from Andre Hollins.

Indiana was within 53-52 when Mbakwe grabbed and offensive board and scored, putting the Gophers up three with 7:27 left.
The game was again tied at 57 when the Hoosiers couldn't corral a rebound that bounced out of bounds, off the Hoosiers. Mbakwe hit two foul shots.

Three of Indiana's starters had a disastrous first half.

Yogi Ferrell, Christian Watford and Zeller shot a combined 0-for-11 from the field before halftime. Ferrell was 0-for-5, Zeller 0-for-4 and Watford 0-for-2.

Jordan Hulls made four 3-pointers in the first half and five for the game for a team-high 17 points. Oladipo added 16 but other that that, there was little offensive efficiency from IU.

Another big aspect was that Indiana got zero points in the mid-range in the second half.

The Hoosiers scored seven baskets in the paint and made four 3-pointers but got nothing between the arc and the paint over the final 20 minutes.

The Gophers shot 20-for-32 in the paint for 40 points while Indiana was 11-for-26 in the paint for 26 points.

"We didn't rebound the ball at a high level," Crean said. "It's not as much the toughness - that's a part of it - but we weren't physical enough. We didn't create the first hit. There were just too many times that shot went up, and they were there before we were because we weren't into their bodies and we picked a bad night to do that."

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