INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Blake Hoffarber’s impersonation of Christian Laettner trumped D.J. White’s incredible effort Friday night.
With one catch, a quick spin move and a perfect 14-foot left-handed, buzzer-beating shot, Hoffarber rekindled memories of Laettner’s winning shot against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament and sent sixth-seeded Minnesota into the Big Ten tournament semifinals with a 59-58 upset of No. 22 Indiana.
It was a fitting end to a crazy night of twists, turns, lead changes and even dueling celebrations in the final 4 seconds and Minnesota’s mob scene was the final act.
“That was the first thing I thought about, that’s the new Christian Laettner play,” said Travis Busch, who heaved the 75-foot pass to Hoffarber. “It’s awesome. March is a great month, a lot of memories are made. It’s incredible.”
Maybe not so much for Hoffarber, who had already won an ESPY in 2005 for making a shot while sitting on the court to force a second overtime during a Minnesota high school tournament game.
Except in this case Hoffarber, the Golden Gophers’ 3-point specialist, wasn’t even supposed to be the shooter.
“I was actually supposed to be just a decoy,” he said. “I was running off two screens, being a decoy. I saw the ball going toward the middle, so I went up and grabbed it, turned and tried to get it off in time.”
It a masterful improvisation by Busch, who ran back-and-forth along the baseline to get a clear throwing lane. With the pass on line, Hoffarber did exactly what Busch expected: Catch, spin and shoot.
Coach Tubby Smith said he wanted to get the ball toward the middle, hoping to draw a foul.
What Hoffarber and Busch did worked even better for the Gophers (20-12) and got them a matchup with 10th-seeded Illinois, a surprise 74-67 overtime winner over No. 17 Purdue.
“I just chucked it to their general direction and he caught it,” Busch said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Hey, he can make this.’ I started running and I was like ‘Oh my God, he did it.’ I went nuts. I was like Jim Valvano looking for someone to hug.”
To White and the Hoosiers (25-7), their second straight loss was the toughest in a bittersweet season. The victory total is their highest since 1992-93 but they’ve also dealt with three player suspensions, a midseason coaching change, failed to win a Big Ten title and now must deal with this ending.
“I just remember it sailing over my head,” said White, who had 23 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks. “I was guarding (Dan) Coleman and he was kind of by the 3-point line. It went over my head, and I turned around and the shot was going in. Losses like this always hurt. You never forget it.”
White’s amazing effort, unfortunately, got lost in the aftermath.
With Indiana trailing 57-55 with 3.4 seconds left, Eric Gordon intentionally missed a free throw. Somehow White beat two Minnesota defenders for the rebound, tipped it in and drew a foul. He missed the free throw with 3.1 seconds to go that would have Indiana ahead, but grabbed his own rebound, drew another foul and hit the second free throw with 1.5 seconds left.
That sent Indiana’s players hopping down the court.
Minnesota, which blew a 16-point first-half lead, called timeout to settle down.
“I just told all the guys to calm down,” said Lawrence McKenzie, who had 15 points. “I really felt that we had a chance to make a shot. It’s just amazing. I’m still in shock right now. I had to slap myself three times. I thought I was dreaming.”
White played like the Big Ten player of the year, an award he won Monday, although the stats were the least of his contributions.
With his teammates out of sync for the first 10 minutes, White took over, played passionately and his teammates took the cue by rallying from a 24-8 deficit.
By halftime, the Hoosiers were back within 34-27 and they opened the second half with seven straight points to tie it. The teams traded leads and baskets over the next 9 minutes, until Minnesota broke a 48-48 tie with five straight points.
It was the precursor to a frantic final minute.
Gordon, who had 16 points and is one of the team’s best free throw shooters, had a chance to get Indiana within 57-56 with 45.9 seconds left but he missed the second free throw.
He also could have tied the score two more free throws with 3.4 seconds left. This time he missed the first and intentionally missed the second, hoping for a rebound—a play that almost never works.
“People on the team told me to miss it,” Gordon said. “I knew the only player that would get it was D.J. I just tried to get it softly on the rim. He got it and got a foul.”
White’s miss gave him another chance to be the hero when he ran down the rebound and drew another foul. The second free throw gave Indiana a 58-57 lead and appeared to doom any hopes Minnesota still had of playing its way into the NCAA tournament.
Hoffarber, who finished with five points and made only one shot in the first 39:59, answered with play right out of Laettner’s book.
“I was fading to the corner,” he said. “It felt good, but I couldn’t really see if it was on target. I was in shock.”