In their first game since losing star senior forward Trevor Mbakwe to a season-ending torn ACL, the Minnesota Golden Gophers valiantly defeated the visiting Virginia Tech Hokies 58-55 on Wednesday night in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Minnesota jumped to an 8-0 lead to start the game, but they trailed 28-25 at halftime, and the game went back and forth in the final tense moments. A big Rodney Williams dunk gave Minnesota a 54-53 lead late but Erick Green responded with a layup to give Virginia Tech a 55-54 advantage with 19 seconds to go. A pair of Julian Welch free throws gave the lead 56-55 back to Minnesota and then Robert Brown was called for an over-and-back violation, turning it back to the Gophers. Welch made both free throws and Green's game-tying three point attempt missed, securing victory for Minnesota.
A balanced offensive effort carried the night for the Gophers, who were led by Welch's 15 points. Welch was on point all night making 5-6 from the field and 4-4 from the line. The frontcourt tandem of Elliott Eliason and Rodney Williams also stamped a mark on the game with a combined 22 points and 15 rebounds, helping ease the pain of Mbakwe's absence for the time-being.
Minnesota overcame a major three-point shooting disparity in Virginia Tech's favor, as the Hokies made 8-17 from long range compared to just 2-13 for the Golden Gophers.
The Golden Gophers, 7-1, recovered nicely from their first loss of the season, an 86-70 decision to the Dayton Flyers. The Hokies dropped to 5-2 and lost for the for first time since falling to the No. 5 Syracuse Orangeman a week ago.
Green led all scorers with 25 points and made 4-8 three pointers for the Hokies.
Minnesota, now 5-0 at home this season, next hosts the USC Trojans on Friday.