SEATTLE — A Minnesota freshman walk-on named Dusty scored 23 points and had 17 rebounds. A Golden Gopher sophomore backup guard made two flying jams that might have started avalanches on Mt. Rainier. And in the stands behind them a University of Minnesota fan had a two-sided sign. "Can't Beet Studying," on the front and "I Did My Homework," on the back.
So the determined, exhausting heroics of unknown Minnesota basketball players like Dusty Rychart and Terrance Simmons meant nothing on a day when four Golden Gopher basketball players, including starters Kevin Clark and Miles Tarver, sat on the bench, suspended over allegations of systematic, rampant academic fraud at the Big Ten school.
Minnesota, seeded seventh in the NCAA West Regional, played gamely and with more heart than could have been expected but lost to 10th-seeded Gonzaga, 75-63, on Thursday at Key Arena. It was the first NCAA tournament win for the school that has produced John Stockton and not much else of basketball note.
The accomplishment, though, was lost in the increasingly ugly scandal that has enveloped Minnesota Coach Clem Haskins and his program. Only two years ago, Haskins had taken the Gophers to the Final Four. Only five hours before Thursday's game, the university announced the suspensions of Clark and Tarver as well as key backups Antoine Broxsie and Jason Stanford.
On Wednesday, the St. Paul Pioneer Press had published an investigative report alleging that an office manager in the academic counseling department had provided evidence she had written more than 400 term papers and take-home exams for basketball players over the last five years.
Thursday morning, university President Mark Yudof announced the suspensions of the four players implicated by the Pioneer Press.
After the Gophers (17-11) had lost, Haskins said grimly that he had "agreed" with the school's decisions on the suspensions and as head coach accepted responsibility for what went on in the program. "It would be a cop-out if I didn't accept responsibility," Haskins said, who added that he expected to be coaching the Gophers next season.
"Oh, yes, definitely," he said.
No one else around the team Thursday seemed quite so sure.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs (26-6) made seven three-point shots in the first half to take a 45-26 lead that they very nearly squandered as Rychart, the walk-on, seemed to steal every rebound and make every shot. With 1 minute 43 seconds left, Rychart made two free throws and the score was 65-63. But 21 seconds, later Richie Frahm sank a 25-foot three-pointer, a shot Frahm said later he couldn't believe he took much less made.
Quincy Lewis, a Minnesota senior who averaged nearly 24 points a game, was held to eight by Gonzaga.
"What if?" Lewis said afterward. "Let's leave it at that. What if everybody had played? It was hard. Basically, this was hard. Let's leave it at that."
Lewis will be able to do that. He is done with the team now. But Haskins must go back to Minneapolis and watch his program be evaluated. As a school official said outside the locker room, "The evidence in the paper seems pretty bad."
And the Bulldogs tried to celebrate tactfully, the thrill of victory muted by the circumstances.