Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Gophers let a second-half lead slip away on the way to another close loss. The lead wasn’t as big and the defeat wasn’t as devastating, but Minnesota nonetheless dropped their third successive close game, this time 72-67 to the Indiana Hoosiers, falling to 13-16 on the year, 7-12 in the Big Ten.
Daniel Oturu led Minnesota with 24 points and 16 rebounds, his fifth straight double-double and eighteenth on the season. After the game, head coach Richard Pitino addressed his star sophomore's future, be it the NBA Draft in June or returning for his junior season.
“Obviously the elephant in the room is Daniel,” said Pitino. “If you were to tell me playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores, with two seniors and only one junior, I would be really excited. But I also know I care about Daniel, and we’re not going to hold guys back, either.”
Oturu hasn't publicly committed to anything, but Darren Wolfson of KSTP is among the many to suggest that Oturu's best chance to be a lottery pick is this summer's NBA Draft, which isn't considered as strong as the 2021 draft class is expected to be.
Oturu is the best Gopher since Kris Humphries in 2003-04, and he could become the first Gopher since Humphries to be drafted.
What else contributed to the sixth defeat in seven games?
Free throws. It’s one thing to not get to the line frequently if that isn’t conducive to your style of play; Wisconsin, for example, averages just 15 attempts per game, but converts them at a conference-leading 76% clip. It’s another thing to miss free throws, which is frustrating but not a death sentence for a good team; Illinois and Penn State, for example, make just 72% and 69%, respectively, but average twenty per game, giving themselves many opportunities to get easy points. The Gophers, by contrast, attempt just 17 free throws a night, and are making just 68 percent of them in conference play.
Marcus Carr drew Indiana’s seventh foul of the second half with 5:24 left in the game, and after converting both shots Minnesota was down just six and would be getting shots on every foul the rest of the way. They managed to do so just once, when Kalscheur was bailed out and fouled while shooting a three with 3:02 left. He promptly went to the line and missed two of them. The fact that the Gophers never got back to the line is either an indictment of their aggressiveness, their philosophy, or their confidence, but regardless of the reason it’s almost unconscionable to be playing out at this point in the season.
Oturu took a ridiculous 27 shots from the field and made just three trips to the line, finishing 2-5. Carr had only the aforementioned two attempts in 37 minutes of game time. Payton Willis had zero attempts in 34 minutes. And on and on and on.
The Gophers finished 8-14 from the line, which I guess is a good night by their standards.
Defense. All five of Indiana’s starters scored in double figures. All five shot at least 50% from the field. The team shot 51% from the field. Joey Brunk, who came into the game averaging 6.9 points and had reached double figures in just three Big Ten games, had three big baskets over the final eight minutes and finished with 12 points. Trayce Jackson-Davis, who hadn’t gone over 18 in conference play against anyone outside of Nebraska and Northwestern until coming to Williams Arena, did so for a second time, going for 18 on 8-12 shooting two weeks after finishing with 27 on 11-15 shooting.
Ball movement. For the second game in a row the Gophers struggled to move the ball effectively, finishing with just eight assists and only three in the second half against eight turnovers, three days after recording just six against Wisconsin. This team has good passers and a number of talented scorers – they had 17, 19, 18, and 17 assists over the four contests preceding the game in Madison – so it’s not as if they can’t move the ball, and assists are admittedly a somewhat arbitrary stat. But they help to tell the story of the game, and just eight on 26 field goals shows a team simply failing to execute effectively.
A few bright spots before we go: Oturu had a gorgeous one-handed steal that he took the other way and threw down for an emphatic dunk. Kalscheur shot poorly from three but was 4-5 from inside the arc, converting on a couple of nice drives early in the game. And Isaiah Ihnen was 3-3 from three, racking up 9 points and 5 rebounds in just 23 minutes again showing off his immense talent. He’s going to be very good.
Unfortunately, he won’t be a superstar by this time next week. The Gophers close the regular season on Sunday hosting Nebraska in Minneapolis before traveling to Indianapolis to play either the Cornhuskers or Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tournament next Wednesday.