After the Gophers lost by 20 to Iowa on December 9, it didn’t seem like things could get much worse in this border battle rivalry. Well, on Sunday afternoon Minnesota blew an eight-point lead with 5:25 left, failing to score for the remainder of the game as the Hawkeyes closed on an 11-0 run to win 58-55 at Williams Arena. . The loss drops them to 6-8 in the Big Ten and just 12-12 on the season.
Daniel Oturu led three starters in double-figures with 15 points, but missed the front end of a one-and-one with 3.8 seconds left and the Gophers down two. The team shot just fifty percent from the line on the day, finishing 6-12. Luka Garza led Iowa with 24 points.
“Credit to Iowa, they made some big plays there, obviously are guys did not,” said coach Richard Pitino after the game. “Too many mental lapses when we needed to step up.”
A succinct summary of his team’s shortcomings. Let’s dive in to what went wrong at the Barn:
Second-half sloppiness. The big story is the Gophers’ collapse over the final five minutes, but that stretch was merely a microcosm of a negligent second half. The team had two ten second violations. They had a lane violation that gave Iowa, which had just missed a free throw, another chance, which they did not miss. They were out-rebounded, including a Hawkeyes offensive board off of a different missed free throw with 1:37 left that led to two more free throws they converted for a 57-55 lead. And most notably, Minnesota had ten turnovers – the last being a Marcus Carr pass thrown out of bounds coming out of a timeout with 40 seconds left.
“You can’t panic. Stay the course,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery after the game. “Really good execution.” Good execution by his guys, that is.
“They add up,” said Pitino of his team’s mistakes. “The turnovers down the stretch killed us.”
Composure. McCaffery specifically talked about his team’s belief that they were going to win, mentioning Garza telling the team in a late second half huddle that they would do just that. The Gophers, by comparison, played antsy down the stretch, turning the ball over five times in the crucial, final 5:25. Pitino said he didn’t think his team pressed, but when asked about the turnovers conceded he was “disappointed in the composure” of his team late in the game.
“We weren’t poised as a team,” said a clearly solemn Carr.
Shooting splits. The biggest reason the Gophers got blown out in Iowa City was shooting, as they were a putrid 24% from the field and just 5-25 from beyond the arc, while Iowa finished at 42% amid a blistering 10-21 from downtown. Today Iowa was just 4-13 from three, but again a solid 41% overall, while Minnesota finished at just 36% overall and 28% from three,7-25.
Despite all that, there were a few things that had the Gophers in a position to win:
Team scoring. While Iowa was basically the Luka Garza show, with the big man scoring ten straight points to start the game and finishing the game-high 24 on 11-21 shooting, Oturu, Carr, and Gabe Kalscheur all reached double-figures, with all six players who saw more than eight minutes of action contributing at least five points.
The clearest representation of this came with just over six minutes left, after a Connor McCaffery three tied the game at 47, erasing an eight-point lead and seemingly swinging all momentum toward Iowa. Oturu answered with a jumper on the other end, then Kalscheur and Payton Willis buried back-to-back threes twenty-two seconds apart to stretch the lead to eight. Unfortunately, that was the last basket the Gophers would score.
Fast break points. The Hawkeyes powered the December win behind an 18-4 advantage in fast break points. Today, the Gophers reversed that, winning the fast break points battle 15-1 as Carr pushed the pace and his teammates got behind the defense for easy buckets in transition. It wasn’t enough, but it was a notable improvement against a good team’s strength, a positive sign for an inconsistent Minnesota team.
Isaiah Ihnen. The 6-9 freshman from Germany had his most productive game in the maroon and gold today, finishing with 5 points, 4 rebounds, 3 of which came on the offensive end, 3 blocks, and 2 assists. Ihnen has battled injuries for much of the year, but he’s gotten consistent minutes recently and you can see him putting it together more and more each game. He’s going to be very good.
Next up is a Wednesday home game against the Indiana Hoosiers, for all intents and purposes a must-win game if the Gophers want to keep their tournament chances alive.