Minnesota fails to keep late lead, falls to Indiana

The Gophers were up 60-58 with just over a minute remaining but couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch.

The Minnesota men’s basketball team does not believe in moral victories.

That is why Thursday night’s 65-60 loss to ninth-ranked Indiana was such a hard pill for Tubby Smith’s team to swallow.

“It’s time to stop being happy being in these types of games,” senior guard Lawrence McKenzie said. “I don’t believe in moral victories. They don’t count in the win (column). We can’t keep letting these games slip away.”

Understanding full well they needed a win against a quality opponent to be considered an NCAA tournament-worthy team, the Gophers played inspired basketball for 40 minutes in front of a nationally televised audience and a capacity crowd of 14,625 at Williams Arena.

Unfortunately effort alone doesn’t always win basketball games. Usually, in close contests, late-game execution does.

Whereas Minnesota struggled mightily to close out the game after fighting back from an 11-point deficit to take a two -point lead with just over a minute remaining, the Hoosiers made plays when it mattered most. “

After a Spencer Tollackson layup put the Gophers ahead 60-58 with 1:49 to play, Indiana successfully got the ball to a wide-open Lance Stemler who calmly hit a three-pointer on the Hoosiers next possession. Free throws by freshman guard Eric Gordon, who is considered by many as a lottery pick in this summers’ NBA Draft but was held in check for much of the game, and two more by Stemler sealed it for the Hoosiers in the final minute.

“We had a defensive breakdown (on the three-pointer),” Smith said. “(That shot) took some wind out of our sales.”

Feeding off the momentum proved by the adrenaline rushed into “The Barn” by a raucous crowd, the Gophers more than held their own against perhaps the best the Big Ten has to offer early, leading by as many as six in the first half.

But as quick as Minnesota built its biggest lead at 27-21 with sharp offensive execution, it was lost just as quickly thanks to poor offensive possessions. When the Gophers went nearly five minutes without a possession, Indiana fully capitalized, stringing together a 17-0 run to take a 38-27 lead, which evolved to a 40-32 half time advantage.

The Gophers rallied to cut their deficit early thanks in large part to Tollackson and senior forward Dan Coleman, who led Minnesota with 15 points, and eventually got over the hump, leading by as many four in the second half.

But failure to make plays down the stretch, as was the case in their loss at Michigan State on Jan. 5., was the Gophers’ downfall.

Now Minnesota is left wondering how it lost its first home game of the year heading into a rematch with the Spartans.

“I thought (Indiana) played better, but that we wanted it more,” Tollackson said. “It certainly wasn’t a lack of effort or heart.”

Said Smith: “We’d have gained a lot more (confidence) if we had won.”

Balancing statistics:

“Weird game,” Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson said as he sat down for his post game press conference.

He wasn’t kidding. Both teams shot themselves in the foot, making for the small margin of victory for the Hoosiers. Indiana committed a season-high 26 turnovers, but Minnesota only scored 16 points off those turnovers.

The Gophers, who got outrebounded by 16, also went a woeful 11-of-21 from the free throw line.

Tollackson, who went 0-of-7 from the line said his performance from the line was unacceptable.

“It was disgraceful. I couldn’t buy one,” he said.