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MEN'S BASKETBALL: Minnesota surprises Indiana on the road

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Finally, just when the game's projected outcome seemed inevitable, the Minnesota Gophers men's basketball team won. Just when the outside world had written Minnesota, just as the opponent was being lauded as one of the Big Te...

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Minnesota's Maverick Ahanmisi and Rodney Williams, right, react after Minnesota defeated Indiana 77-74 in an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Finally, just when the game's projected outcome seemed inevitable, the Minnesota Gophers men's basketball team won.

Just when the outside world had written Minnesota, just as the opponent was being lauded as one of the Big Ten's best, just as Minnesota seemed primed for another collapse, the Gophers found a way to notch their first conference victory, outmuscling seventh-ranked Indiana, 77-74, and becoming the last team in the conference to earn a league win.

They've had chances before. They've played higher-ranked teams closely. They've put up a fight in unfriendly arenas. They've been on the verge of winning. Thursday they finally, finally did.

Two games after being benched in favor of freshman Joe Coleman, Austin Hollins started in a new lineup -- featuring Julian Welch at the point, and Hollins and Coleman as the other two guards -- and exploded for a career-high 18 points.

As the clock ticked down in the second half, the Hoosiers made a run, cutting the 11-point lead to one with 15 seconds on the clock. But this time, in this game, the Gophers didn't let the win slip away. With Rodney Williams -- who had 14 points and six rebounds before fouling out -- on the bench, Hollins sank two free throws for the final margin.

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At the beginning of the season, Minnesota and Indiana were side-by-side in many polls.

Both were borderline tournament teams this year. Both could be good if things went right. Both had plenty of unproven players, and plenty of unknowns, and the expectations were that both would most likely finish somewhere in the middle of the pack.

But while the Hoosiers have been one of the conference's biggest surprises -- being spoken about in conversations with Ohio State and Michigan State -- the Gophers have failed to even live up to moderate expectations thus far, becoming the sole owners of last place before Thursday's win.

After the Gophers jumped out to an 11-8 lead, the Hoosiers' Cody Zeller stuffed an alley-oop and then stole the inbound, passed to Victor Oladipo who dunked again, giving Indiana its first lead of the game.

But much like the Gophers' first two games on the road, they refused to go away, retaking the lead midway through the half on good drives and solid shooting, getting three-pointers from Andre Hollins, Maverick Ahanmisi -- who came off the bench in yet another lineup change -- and two from both Chip Armelin and Austin Hollins.

Conversely, the Hoosiers struggled to finish at the basket and to hit their jumpers of any length, finishing the half with 38.5 percent shooting to the Gophers' 50, and making just one of eight three-point attempts.

In the second half, the Gophers continued the hot streak, fighting off Zeller's dominance inside and the visible lift the Hoosiers received with sixth man Will Sheehey -- who has been out since the start of conference play with a foot injury -- and building a lead as great as 11 points with 12 minutes left on the clock.

The Gophers had competed in its first two conference road games -- against Illinois and Michigan -- but ultimately lost to both, missing legitimate opportunities and unraveling down the stretch. Then after losing two games at home to move to 0-4, the Gophers seemed out of answers.

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Certainly, the Gophers have a lot of work left to be done. But a win at Indiana is a good place to start.

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