Minnesota Golden Gophers basketball team played with class against Alabama

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 21: Jordan Murphy (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 21: Jordan Murphy (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

Sometimes your jaw drops at the sights and sounds of something rare and that happened between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Minnesota Golden Gophers basketball team on Saturday night.

Most people have never seen a basketball game that had three players on one team going against five on the other until Saturday. The Minnesota Golden Gophers basketball team was thankfully on the side of the coin with the, almost, full roster and Alabama was not that lucky.

To quickly recap a series of crazy events: Gophers point guard Nate Mason delivered a cross over that sent Alabama’s Collin Sexton to his behind. The next time down the court for the Gophers, Mason tried the same thing, but Sexton deflected the ball away. This resulted in bickering back and forth between Sexton and Mason with technical fouls assigned to both players. Mason didn’t shut up and was handed a second technical which results in an ejection. Head coach Richard Pitino also got a technical in there.

After that mess was cleaned up, play got going again and within seconds play had stopped. Soon Dupree McBrayer found himself in a shoving match with an Alabama player. That shoving resulted in the entire Alabama bench emptying onto the court. That’s a big no-no and all seven bench players were ejected from the game for Alabama.

The Crimson Tide rolled with five players for a few minutes, but soon the player McBrayer got tangled up with, Dazon Ingram, committed his fifth foul and was ineligible for the rest of the game. Alabama was down to four.

Less than a minute later, Alabama’s John Petty landed awkwardly and wasn’t healthy enough to continue playing. Alabama played three-on-five for 10:41 of the game.

The first half of the game was a fun contest between two top 25 teams, but, obviously, the second half got ugly. The second half could have gotten a lot uglier, too.

You’ll see the stat how Alabama outscored the Gophers 26-16 in the course of play with only three players, but that doesn’t exactly tell the whole story. The Gophers weren’t exactly trying to run away with the game because if they wanted to, they surely could have. Frankly, the Gophers could have embarrassed Alabama in the last 10 minutes of the game.

Every possession during the three-on-five portion of the game, the Gophers simply passed the ball around the perimeter and only shooting the ball when the shot clock was about to expire. The Gophers wouldn’t have had to do that, but they did out of respect for a team only paying with three total players.

It would have been really easy to put the pedal to the metal and literally run Alabama out of the gym, but Pitino and the Gophers handled the situation with class. As much class as can be possible with a game that saw a total of eight ejections.

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Sure, it would have been a little nicer if the Gophers would have won by more than five at 89-84, but it is a danged if you do and danged if you don’t situation. If the Gophers blow out Alabama, they get ripped for creaming a team with two less players. If the Gophers take it easy and still win, they are blamed for not winning by 30 points, something that could have easily been done.

Frankly, it’s not real basketball once it becomes three-on-five. There is no way to defend five players when you have three, especially at high level college ball when everyone is a good player.

No doubt this will be a game that will be remembered for a long time, but don’t forget that the Gophers were also put in a hard place, too.

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Someday, I’ll have to tell you about the time that I played on a team that almost won a game going four-on-five the entire game. Then it turned to three-on-five… but that’s a story for another time.