Gophers win NIT thriller

Posted: Thursday, March 19, 1998

MINNEAPOLIS - The ear-splitting roar at the final buzzer said it all: Minnesota is going back to a Final Four, even if it isn't the one most people will be watching next week.

With hometown favorite Sam Jacobson pirouetting to the deciding layups in the final minute of his last game at Williams Arena, the Golden Gophers beat Marquette 73-71 in the National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals Wednesday night.

The victory touched off a raucous celebration from the crowd of 11,842, many of whom spilled onto the floor and mobbed coach Clem Haskins as he tried to do a postgame interview.

``I would challenge anyone who says that the NIT isn't exciting,'' Haskins said, complaining that the roar might have damaged his right eardrum. ``If you find an NCAA game more exciting than this, you are nuts. You must be taking the wrong medicine, or you should get your prescription changed.''

Forgive Haskins if he missed all of the buzzer-beating drama in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament last week. A year after leading the Gophers to their first Final Four appearance in that tournament, he has been trying to take a far less-talented team to the NIT semifinals.

The Gophers (18-15) accomplished that Wednesday after needing an upset win over Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten tournament just to squeeze into the NIT.

And they can thank Jacobson, the talented small forward Haskins started wooing long before Jacobson became a star at Park High School in Cottage Grove, just southeast of the Twin Cities.

A senior, Jacobson finished in style in his last home game. He had 16 of his 21 points in the second half, and added 11 rebounds and five assists. After Minnesota wasted a nine-point second-half lead, Jacobson used a nifty spin move to set up a tying scoop layup with 57 seconds left. He rebounded a miss at the other end on Marquette's next possession, then drove to the winning basket with 25 seconds left.

``We knew Jacobson would want the ball,'' Marquette senior Aaron Hutchins said.

The Eagles just didn't know how badly Jacobson wanted to make the plays that mattered in his last game at Williams Arena.

``Going through me. That's the way I wanted to do it,'' he said. ``I didn't want to be a guy who hides in the corner.''

Because Jacobson came through in his last college game at home, senior point guard Eric Harris will get to play his first college game at home. Harris grew up in the Bronx, and plans to show his teammates all the sights before they play Fresno State or Hawaii next Tuesday at New York City's Madison Square Garden.

``I feel like the weight is off my shoulders now,'' said Harris, who shot just 1-for-8 Wednesday. ``I wanted to get there so bad.''

The other semifinal will pair Penn State, a 75-70 winner over Georgia Tech, against the winner of tonight's game between Vanderbilt and Georgia.

Harris and Jacobson have won 89 games during their careers, more than any other pair of players in Minnesota history. But it looked like their mark would stand at 88 as Marquette pulled ahead in the final minutes.

First, the Eagles (20-11) took advantage of foul problems along Minnesota's frontline to wipe out the nine-point deficit. Then, they used the 3-point shooting of John Cliff and Aaron Hutchins to take a 65-59 lead with 7:13 left.

The lead was 71-67 when Hutchins hit two free throws with 1:30 remaining, the last of his team-high 20 points. But Marquette, which rallied from five down in the final 24 seconds to force overtime in Monday's win over Auburn, couldn't make it stand up.

Mike Bargen missed the front end of two one-and-one situations in the final 2:23, and Cliff missed two open 3-pointers in the final 45 seconds.

``I was very proud of our guys,'' coach Mike Deane said after Marquette's sixth straight 20-win season ended. ``They could have melted at the half and packed it up, but they didn't. We came out and did the exact opposite.''

Said Hutchins: ``It's disappointing to end (my career) with a loss, but it was a great loss.''

Penn State 75, Georgia Tech 70 Greg Grays scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer, as the Nittany Lions won at Georgia Tech.

Grays, a freshman reserve, hit a 3-pointer with 6:36 remaining to give the Nittany Lions a 57-54 lead they would not relinquish.

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