No. 23 Indiana tops struggling Minnesota 69-50

Christian Watford rediscovered his shooting stroke with 12 points for 23rd-ranked Indiana, and the Hoosiers blew out sputtering Minnesota 69-50 on Sunday.

Victor Oladiopo and Jordan Hulls each scored 12 points themselves, and Verdell Jones III added 11 points off the bench for Indiana (22-7, 9-7 Big Ten), which held the Gophers to a season-low score and went 21 for 25 at the free-throw line.

Austin Hollins had 14 points for the Gophers (17-12, 5-11), who lost their fifth straight game. This was the lowest score against the Hoosiers in a conference game this season. They gave up 54 points to Penn State last month.

Watford, who went 0 for 13 from the floor over the last two games, knocked down a pull-up jump shot and a 3-pointer in the first half. He only pulled the trigger four times, but he was 7 for 7 from the line and grabbed six rebounds. Oladipo had eight boards for Indiana, which kept pace with Purdue and Wisconsin in the scramble for fourth through eighth place.

Senior Ralph Sampson III went 1 for 11 from the field, his worst career shooting performance in any game with five or more attempts. The Gophers finished 18 for 58 from the floor, by far their worst percentage — 31 — of the season.

The Gophers won 77-74 at Assembly Hall when the Hoosiers were seventh in the Associated Press poll six weeks ago, a potentially season-changing victory that softened the sting of an 0-4 start in the conference. They weren't able to build off that momentum, though.

After wasting prime opportunities to match the Indiana win with late collapses in close home losses this month to ranked opponents Wisconsin and Michigan State, Minnesota entered the weekend badly needing a victory to even stay near the NCAA tournament bubble. The Gophers played poorly enough to make it burst.

The rims on either end certainly weren't their friend. Numerous times Sampson made effective moves to the basket only to watch the ball roll out. The guards had their share of shots go in, then out.

But they carried the body language of a defeated team, failing to secure the ball in crowds or get to the loose ones quickly enough. They didn't get back on defense or cut off the back-door cuts consistently. Rodney Williams winced routinely when he held his hand up in the post and didn't get the ball; he didn't attempt a single shot in the first half and finished with three points.

Andre Hollins started at point guard for Julian Welch, who was hindered by a hip pointer and played sparingly. The other point guard, Maverick Ahanmisi, was bothered by a sprained ankle and was also a nonfactor.

The prevailing image came when Andre Ingram got inside for tip position on a missed free throw by Sampson, but the putback didn't go in. Then in the scrum for the next rebound, the ball got stuck between the backboard and the hinge of the rim. Then after a steal by Ingram, Coleman went up for a dunk and missed it.

Coach Tubby Smith sat glumly in his chair on the raised floor, hunched over for much of the game while the Gophers stumbled to their 21st loss in their last 27 Big Ten games.

The Hoosiers didn't look much more polished, clumsily throwing the ball away at times and missing plenty of clean looks at the basket, but they clearly played with the confidence of a team hungry to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in Crean's four seasons in charge of this proud, history-rich program.

That loss to Minnesota started a slide of five losses in seven games, but they've recovered at least enough to have a little momentum entering March. Their last two Big Ten games are against two of the conference's hottest teams, Michigan State and Purdue, but they're both at home. Indiana hasn't beaten a ranked team since Jan. 5, after they took down Kentucky, Ohio State and Michigan in the span of a month, but the Hoosiers are guaranteed to finish at least .500 in the Big Ten after going 8-46 over Crean's first three years.