Bloomington, Ind. — Indiana’s Thomas Bryant got down and dirty Saturday and looked good doing it.
He scored points, banged inside, played defense and jump-started the Hoosiers’ sometimes anemic offense at three key points.
The freshman center had a career-high 23 points, grabbed eight rebounds and scored the go-ahead basket on a putback with 1:56 left to help No. 19 Indiana fend off Minnesota’s frantic second-half rally for a 74-68 victory.
“It was just one of those games that you have to do some things to find a way to win the game and he had a big impact,” coach Tom Crean said.
Bryant made plays on both ends in a game the Hoosiers (18-4, 8-1 Big Ten) desperately needed after the Golden Gophers erased a 16-point second-half deficit and took a 67-66 lead with 3:54 to go.
But Bryant clogged up the middle and the Golden Gophers didn’t make another basket.
Offensively, Bryant’s basket off the rebound and an emphatic dunk with 27 seconds left made it 70-67. That was all the Hoosiers needed.
“I felt like Thomas stayed with it even when calls didn’t go his way,” senior guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell said after scoring 13 points. “He kept his head, he played great defense, he rebounded well for us and he had that poise for us.”
This was no typical game for the surging Hoosiers.
They started slow, didn’t take the lead until midway through the first half, didn’t make a 3-pointer for the first 14½ minutes and couldn’t close it out against a team that has now lost 11 in a row.
Minnesota (6-16, 0-10) was led by Nate Mason and Kevin Dorsey, who each had 21 points. Dorsey’s scoring total was a career high.
After trailing 39-27 at halftime and 48-32 with 16:33 to play, the Gophers rallied.
They scored six straight points, went on an 11-4 run and finally took the lead when Dupree Brayer came up with a steal and scored on a breakaway dunk that sent the Gophers bench jumping up and down while most of the fans inside Assembly Hall were stunned.
Bryant made sure it didn’t last.
“I think maybe they tightened up a little bit defensively, so you’ve got to give them credit,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “I know a lot of people make fun of us, our record, and so on. But these guys, they’re fighting.”