Andre Hollins, the Minnesota guard, threw his crosscourt pass toward Rodney Williams, but here came John Shurna for the interception. Until this moment, which came just over 16 minutes into their Saturday night meeting at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the 6-foot-9 'Cat forward had been frustrated, had been elbowed, had been jostled and held scoreless by a rotating cast of Gopher defenders that included both the 6-foot-11 Ralph Sampson III and the 6-foot-11 Elliott Eliason. But here, on the run, he took that interception the distance, getting his first points of the evening on a breakaway dunk. "Usually that kind of thing picks you up. It probably did with him," his coach, Bill Carmody, would later say.
"It's nice to get a layup to see the ball go into the basket," said Shurna himself. "But I was really focused on (the team) scoring points. Everyone was playing well. Dave (Sobolewski, the point) was hitting shots. Drew (Crawford, the other forward) was hitting shots. We got key contributions from everyone."
Later, after the 'Cats had finished off their 11-point win and Shurna had replaced Billy McKinney as his school's career scoring leading, Gopher coach Tubby Smith was asked if his players had felt the pressure surrounding this game that carried huge implications for both teams. "I hope they felt the pressure," he fairly spit out. "That's what the game's about, what sports is about. It's measuring yourself against pressure. The great players, they want more pressure. The good players, they want the challenge. They seek it. They embrace it. . . They (his players) were told what the implications were and we didn't rise to the challenge."
Now, after his dunk, John Shurna took all of the pressure surrounding this evening and simply embraced it, coddled it, treated it like it was nothing more than his personal plaything. It did not matter that both teams were playing with their NCAA tournament hopes very much on the line. Nor did it matter that the hot glare of the klieg lights bore down on him as he sought the record. He was immune to all that and to the frenzy in the stands, following his dunk with a three from up top and then a driving layup. Next came another three, this one set up by a pretty screen from Sobolewski, and finally, after his 12-footer in the lane went in-and-out, he got an easy layup after a steal and assist by JerShon Cobb.
Before this flurry, he had missed a 15-footer, a three and had a layup attempt blocked. But here, in the final 3:42 of the half, he had gone five-of-six, scored all of his team's dozen points and staked it to an eight-point lead as it headed to the locker room. "That's a credit to my teammates, just knowing I had the hot hand going for a little while there," he would (characteristically) say when asked about this explosion. "They were finding me in areas to score. I think it's just the flow of the game."
There were other stories for the 'Cats on this evening as well and one of them was Sobolewski, the freshman point whose scoring carried them early. He would finish with 22 points, would go six-of-10 overall and four-of-five on his threes, and would commit just a single turnover in 35 minutes. "I was very impressed with how he ran the offense, the way he shot it," Smith would say of him. "We were trying to pressure him. But he's a very talented player and we had no answer for him."
"Dave's been great," echoed Shurna. "I think his role continues to grow each game and that's huge for us. That's definitely what you want out of a freshman point guard. He's poised, and able to take and make big shots for us. He's been huge for us."
Huge too, in a less obvious way, was the sophomore Cobb, who coming off injuries got his first extensive minutes (24) since Jan. 4. He missed the three shots he took, but was a disruptive force atop the 'Cats 1-3-1 zone and picked up five steals. "He gives us another guy out there who's long, who helps you defensively," Carmody would say of him. "He had a few shots there, they were all right there. He didn't pull the string on them or anything. I thought two of them were going down. They didn't, but he gave us a nice lift there."
They got a lift too from Crawford, who finished with 11, and an even bigger one from their defense, which not only forced the Gophers into 21 turnovers. It also limited them to just seven second-chance points even though they collected 17 offensive rebounds. "We just couldn't finish around the basket," Smith would later say of that second fact. "Seventeen offensive rebounds, you would think you would have a bunch of scoring from those, but we're not very physical and we just didn't make any shots. We had opportunities, but I thought they did a good job defending us at the basket. They really challenged us and we didn't go through them to the basket like we should have and draw the fouls. Then even when we drew fouls, we didn't shoot them well (his team ended six-of-13 from the line)."
"We had a tough time attacking the 1-3-1," he said of the first fact. "The turnovers did us in, but it was because of their defense. They gave us all kinds of problems. . . We didn't really share the ball well. We didn't really move the ball well. We had people dribbling, trying to create their own shots. But that's what that zone will do to you."
The Gophs, down 13 with 12 minutes remaining, switched into their own zone, got a stop, a three-pointer and were now within 10. Patiently, on the perimeter, the 'Cats worked the ball and finally it found its way to Shurna, who was up top and three steps outside the arc.
That morning he had received a call from McKinney, the holder of the record he here pursued. "It was a really good surprise," he would later relate. "He didn't have to do that, so I think it shows what kind of person he is to go out of his way to call me. It wasn't a long conversation. But he was really nice to me. He said just go out there and have fun. He said go out there and win."
Now, before any Gopher could close on him, Shurna rose and offered a three and it found only net and the record was his with 10:48 remaining. "I thought I was open, so I shot it and it went through. Just trying to help the team win," he would laconically say of this historic moment, but the reaction that greeted it was hardly as restrained. The fans rose, all of them, some waving his number, others waving blowups of his face, and here a warm wave of adulation washed over him, bathed him, warmed him, and then came the chant, "Shur-Na! Shur-Na! Shur-Na!"
"Obviously the crowd went nuts, which they should have," Sobolewski would later say, thinking back to this moment. "So, definitely, that got us all pretty excited, and we pushed through to the end."
The game now just played out to the end, Minnesota never again getting any closer than eight, and later all the chatter centered on John Shurna's record. But his work this night, as it often does, included much more than just his scoring, and it showed just why he is always described as the quintessential teammate. For here, when it would have been easy for him to think only of points, he also had a team-high five rebounds and a team-high five assists and a team-high three blocks and a team-high (along with Cobb) four steals.
"Obviously, it's an honor," he himself would later say of the record he now holds and then, most tellingly, he added this.
He added: "But I think it was more important tonight that we defended home court against a good Minnesota team."