MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—After watching Zach Puchtel give an intense effort in practice, Minnesota coach Dan Monson informed the seldom-used center that he would start against Indiana’s dominant big man, Marco Killingsworth.
“I was shocked,” Puchtel said. “I thought it was a dream at first.”
Puchtel rewarded his coach for his decision, providing a spark in Minnesota’s 61-42 victory over the 13th-ranked Hoosiers on Sunday. Vincent Grier had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Gophers (10-8, 1-6 Big Ten), who snapped a six-game losing streak and handed Indiana its worst defeat of the season.
Looking to energize his struggling team, Monson started Puchtel, who had played only 38 minutes this season, and freshman guard Jamal Abu-Shamala in place of usual starters Spencer Tollackson and Moe Hargrow.
Puchtel finished with six points and played solid defense against Killingsworth. Abu-Shamala had seven points.
“You can’t just keep marching out the same way when you’re 0-6,” Monson said.
“When we were in practice on (Friday), no one played harder than Zach Puchtel. I wanted to show our guys that’s what we needed.”
It was Minnesota’s 12th starting lineup of the year, and it resulted was an uncharacteristically strong first half for the Gophers, who’ve been plagued by turnovers and badly missed shots since the Big Ten season began. Minnesota played its most aggressive defense of the year, hounding Indiana’s ball handlers, contesting every shot it could and diving for loose balls.
“I need to get him on my team,” Indiana coach Mike Davis said of Puchtel. “This guy was so clean with his fundamentals, and defensively.”
J’son Stamper added 12 points for the Gophers, who held Indiana to 32 percent shooting, including 5-for-23 from 3-point range. The shooting woes came five days after the Hoosiers shot 37 percent from the field in a loss at Iowa.
Indiana (12-5, 4-3) entered last week leading the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (46 percent) and second in overall field-goal percentage (51).
But the Hoosiers looked unprepared for Minnesota’s suddenly aggressive defense.
“This is definitely a win to build on,” Grier said.
Indiana has lost its last three road games, all by more than 13 points.
“We looked like a team that’s afraid to play on the road,” Davis said.
Killingsworth led Indiana with 15 points but looked frustrated throughout as the Hoosiers failed to find any kind of a scoring rhythm. Robert Vaden added 11 for Indiana, which has dropped four of its last five to Minnesota.
“It’s embarrassing to lose by 20 points,” Marshall Strickland said. “We have to learn from these experiences.”
Minnesota held Indiana to its lowest scoring output of the year and raced to a 34-16 halftime lead. The Gophers took their biggest lead at 10:28 of the second half when Stamper’s jumper made it 49-25.
Indiana’s frustrations boiled over in the second half. Killingsworth gave Stamper an extra shove after Stamper collected a missed free throw by Grier. And Sean Kline later picked up an intentional foul for throwing Stamper to the ground at 3:44 after Minnesota pulled down another of its missed foul shots.
Playing with two early fouls, Killingsworth played only 10 minutes in the first half and the Hoosiers were outscored 19-4 during a 10-minute span in the first.
Minnesota hit 16 of its 26 first-half shots and held Indiana to its lowest scoring half of the year.
“We’ve got to put this behind us,” Killingsworth said.