On a Saturday when the Gopher football team picked up their biggest win in twenty years, the Gopher men’s basketball team couldn’t follow their lead, losing 71-62 to the Oklahoma Sooners in Sioux Falls.
The new-look Gophers followed the same formula that powered a 35-point opening victory, playing fast and from the three-point line, but found out what happened when the shots don’t fall, finishing 8-32 from downtown as Oklahoma closed the game on a 28-11 run. Sophomore transfer Marcus Carr led the team with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists, while sophomore Daniel Oturu added 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
The Gophers shot just 3-17 from beyond the arc in the second half, seeing a 51-43 lead with 12:06 to play turn into a 55-53 deficit before the under-8 timeout. Here are the other reasons they lost:
Frontcourt play. Oklahoma started three guards but won the game with their big men, rotating five guys 6-7 or taller and out-rebounding the Gophers 42-37 while finishing with nine offensive boards.
The difference was especially striking when Oturu was on the bench or guarding on the perimeter, as the lane opened up and the Sooners attacked the glass. OU bigs Brady Manek (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Kristian Doolittle (10 points, 10 rebounds) outplayed Alihan Demir, Michael Hurt, and Jarvis Omersa, who combined for just 5 field goal attempts and 5 rebounds.
Free throw shooting. It wasn’t all new-look Gophers, as the team was once again plagued by free throw shooting, finishing just 4-12 from the line. The Gophers were in the bonus with more than ten minutes left in the second half but failed to take advantage, with Carr (1-6) and Oturu (1-3) missing consecutive front-ends of one-and-ones as the Gophers nursed a 51-48 lead. Oklahoma finished 17-22 from the charity stripe.
Fatigue. Coach Richard Pitino tightened the rotation even more, and the bench saw just 36 total minutes. All five starters played at least 26 minutes, with Carr (39), Payton Willis (36), and Oturu (34) leading the way.
Tre’ Williams (17) and Michael Hurt (13) saw time, but Jarvis Omersa (6) and Bryan Greenlee (less than 1) were largely kept on the bench. It’s difficult to say fatigue is why the Gophers lost, but the second half was full of missed open looks at one end – Carr, Willis, and Gabe Kalscheur shot just 5-18 after the break – and defensive lapses at the other.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, changes going forward, and what impact top freshman Isaiah Ihnen has upon returning from a wrist injury.
There were some bright spots
Even so, no complaining yet, Gopher fans. Oklahoma’s been to the NCAAs six of the last seven years, and the Gophers actually looked pretty good for most of the game. Among the bright spots:
Daniel Oturu. Oturu was awesome again, and it’s not a stretch to say he could be an all-Big Ten player. He shot 7-12, hitting jumpers, showing off post moves, and putting the ball on the floor, including a beautiful take from the top of the key finished with a spin move and a left-handed layup.
Oturu cut his turnovers from six on opening night to just two, and effectively passed out of double teams all night, getting the guards open threes. He put two up himself, and the form was solid – if he becomes a three-point shooter, watch out.
Perimeter play. The Gophers spread the floor once again, spending much of the game moving the ball on the perimeter and getting looks for their shooters that will eventually fall. Willis, Kalscheur, Demir, Oturu, and Carr especially all beat their man off the dribble, and a team with five guys who can get to the hole presents matchup problems for basically any opponent.
This was also the second game in a row Oturu and Demir worked a little high-low action, similar to how Oturu and Jordan Murphy did last year. It’s not totally clicking yet, but is another dimension to watch going forward.
Hustle. The team hustled from the get-go, with their first basket coming on a loose ball Carr won the race to and scooted down court for a layup. Later in the half, Carr dove to save a loose ball off a missed free throw and drew a foul. Oturu was also on the floor battling for loose balls. Hurt and Omersa both gave hustle minutes on defense. The bench was jumping up and down.
These little things add up to a big thing over the course of a season. Did they get tired? Maybe. But you’d rather have that than a team that coasts all game.
A non-conference win over a power-conference opponent would’ve been great, but the Gophers nonetheless played decently against a solid opponent. They’ll be better than people think, and are closer to an NCAA tournament team than one picked to finish twelfth in the Big Ten.
Next up is a trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse to take on Butler on Tuesday, followed by a visit to Utah on Friday.