The Saint Louis Billikens endured 34 percent shooting, a second-half disappearing act by their big scorer and five torturous minutes of overtime yesterday.
But their survival test was not complete until Minnesota launched four potential game-tying, three-point shots in the final 13 seconds.
Only then were the Billikens able to escape the Baltimore Arena with a frenetic 64-61 victory in the first round of the East Regional, their first victory in the NCAA tournament in 43 years.
In a game of bizarre twists and long scoring droughts, Saint Louis (23-7) advanced to tomorrow's second round against Wake Forest on the strength of a 14-foot jump shot by Erwin Claggett that rolled across the back of the rim before dropping through.
It seemed fitting that it was the only field goal in the second half for Claggett, the team's leading scorer.
Fitting? Thanks to a hail of three-point shots, the Billikens jumped out to a 19-3 lead that grew to 31-14 before halftime. When Claggett went cold and the game turned into a bruising battle of endurance, the Golden Gophers (19-12) mounted their improbable comeback.
And when it looked as if Minnesota would fall short, Townsend Orr made the play of the game to send it to overtime.
Anticipating a pass, Orr tipped the ball away from Claggett, retrieved it as he was going out of bounds at midcourt and whipped a perfect lead pass to Chad Kolander. The resulting layup tied the game at 64.
As the lead melted, Saint Louis coach Charlie Spoonhour stewed on the bench.
"The thought you have is who's going to stop the bleeding?" he said. "It was Scott Highmark, after a very sloppy first half for him."
Highmark had two points at halftime, but finished with 18. None were more important than the two points he got on a jump shot almost two minutes into overtime that broke the 56-56 tie and ended a field-goal drought of 9:26 for Saint Louis.
It was tied again at 61 when Minnesota's Voshon Lenard -- whose defense sent Claggett into his funk -- hit a three-pointer from the corner. Claggett broke the tie for good with 45.8 seconds left. And at :27.5, David Robinson hit the second of two free throws for a three-point lead.
That set the stage for the unlikely finish.
Even the ending followed form. In a game where both teams combined to miss 80 shots, the last four cost Minnesota a third straight 20-win season.
In the final 13 seconds, Orr got off three three-point attempts and Lenard got off another. The sequence started with Orr's shot from the right side. His miss was tipped back to Lenard by David Grim. Lenard's shot was tipped back by Kolander to Orr.
In Gatling-gun style, Orr fired two more shots from the left side.
Fitting? This season, the Gophers broke school records for three-point shooting. But yesterday they fired only blanks, hitting just six of 23 attempts.
Claggett called the final seconds "an eternity . . . I would've died if they hit one."
Standing under the basket, Highmark said he thought any one of the four could have fallen.
"They got four good looks," he said. "Somebody was looking out for us."
Orr pounded his fist on the press table when his college career expired with the last shot, then prepared to move on.
"Yes, it's frustrating not to have the shot fall," he said, "but we can't blame anybody. We had a lot of opportunities. We've got to give Saint
Minnesota coach Clem Haskins echoed the thought.
"We had two great shots [in the sequence], with key people," he said. "We had some great shots. That's all you can ask for."