Late collapse dooms men’s hoops in Michigan

by Brian Hall

ANN ARBOR, Mich.- Following Minnesota men’s basketball team’s narrow defeat at the hands of a slumping Michigan squad, the visitors locker room was eerily silent.

In a game in which the Gophers did more to lose than Michigan did to win, Minnesota squandered a 10-point lead with just over six minutes remaining.

“It was real quiet in the locker room,” senior Dusty Rychart said. “You could hear a pin drop in there. That’s the sound of defeat.”

Minnesota (10-7, 3-3 Big Ten) lost 71-69 to the Wolverines (7-8, 2-3) on Saturday to end a once promising three-game roadswing with a 1-2 record. The Gophers ran their record to 1-6 on the road this season.

But, how did it get to this?

One week ago Minnesota was 3-1 in the conference and earned their second win at Purdue since 1982.

The Gophers had also beaten then No. 17 Michigan State and Michigan at Williams Arena and owned a three-game win streak. Minnesota appeared ready to make some conference noise and prove it is a legitimate NCAA hopeful.

Surely after beating the Boilermakers the Gophers learned how to win on the road and would beat Wisconsin or Michigan, two seemingly beatable teams.

But one five minute lapse at the beginning of the second half sealed Minnesota’s fate against Wisconsin.

The Badgers outscored the Gophers 15-0 to start the half and the Minnesota comeback attempt came up just short.

Then came the trip to Ann Arbor against a Wolverines squad which had just lost to conference bottom-feeder Northwestern.

“There is a big difference between 4-2 and 3-3,” coach Dan Monson said. “It’s too early to call it a swing game, but it was an important game for us and we had the opportunity.”

The first half was a lesson in futility as each team’s offense was stuck in neutral.

Michigan didn’t hit a shot until freshman Dommanic Ingerson buried a three-pointer 5:36 into the game. The opening stint was one of two five-minute stretches in the first half in which the Wolverines failed to hit a field goal.

But the Gophers were unable to capitalize on Michigan’s ineptitude. After taking an early seven-point lead, Minnesota also suffered a 5:10 spell without a field goal, scoring only once on a Kerwin Fleming free throw.

As each team faltered, the Gophers owned a one-point advantage at the half while outshooting the Wolverines a paltry 33.3 percent to 30 percent.

“We should have pulled this game out in the first half and make it impossible for them to come back,” forward Michael Bauer said. “We didn’t do that. That’s why we lost. We let them hang around.”

As ineffective as each team’s offense was in the first half, the defenses were equally inefficient in the second frame.

Michigan came out quickly on a 7-0 run within the half’s first minute to turn the deficit into a six point advantage.

The Gophers used a 12-2 run to take the largest lead of the game of 10 points with little over six minutes remaining, forcing the Wolverines into a timeout.

Returning from the timeout, Michigan slowly began to cut into the Minnesota lead creating a furious finish.

“When you are up 10 you are only a stop or two away from being up 12 to 14 and the game is over,” Monson said. “We didn’t do that.”

With 1:13 remaining Ingerson hit a three-pointer to draw the teams even despite Fleming’s hand in his face.

As time was running down freshman Chuck Bailey found an open Chris Young underneath the basket for a dunk and a Wolverines lead.

Following the dunk point guard Kevin Burleson raced down court and hit a short jumper to tie the score again. Michigan forward Bernard Robinson Jr. then hit a running bank shot with three seconds remaining to give the Wolverines the win and left the Gophers defeated and dejected.

“This is worse than getting beat by 20 points,” Rychart said. “It takes a lot out of us. But we need to focus on the future, especially at home. If we can’t hold leads on the road, then we can’t lose at home.”

Michigan shot 61.5 percent from the field in the second half that consisted mainly of lay-ups and dunks. The Wolverines hit their last eight shots while scoring on their last 10 possessions.

“It all comes down to defense,” Burleson said. “We didn’t make the plays when we needed to.”

Minnesota now returns home for a three-game stretch that consists of the two winningest teams in the Big Ten, Ohio State and Indiana.

The Gophers have a week in between games to fix their defense and prepare for the conference leading Buckeyes this Saturday.

Minnesota ranks second in the conference in scoring offense averaging 72.2 points per game but are third from the bottom in scoring defense giving up 73.3 points per game.”

“This was basically a must-win game for us,” Bauer said. “Road wins are hard to get. We had it but we couldn’t seal it up. Now we’ve got a lot harder road. Every game now is a must-win.”

Bennett hurts back

Senior Travarus Bennett was undercut by Michigan guard Avery Queen in the second half of Saturday’s game. Bennett hit the floor hard landing on his back. He was helped off the court with 6:42 remaining in the game but later returned. Afterward Bennett said he was feeling better. Monson said he expects the starting guard to be sore but the two days off will help him recuperate. The team was given Sunday and Monday off.

Hagen receives

Monson announced Jeff Hagen would receive a basketball scholarship for the remaining tenure of his Gophers career.

The sophomore center is redshirting this season after averaging 1.9 points and 1.2 rebounds per game as a freshman.

Brian Hall covers men’s basketball and
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