Gophers fade late on the road, fall to 0-6 in Big Ten

C.J. Spang

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. ” Every time Minnesota’s men’s basketball team would pull close to Illinois in Wednesday night’s game, the eighth-ranked Illini countered with a big play to take back the momentum.

It became obvious why Illinois (18-2, 4-2 Big Ten) has won 32 consecutive home games ” a new school record ” after its 77-53 victory over the Gophers.

“Well, I think we looked a little bit like a team you would expect,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “And they looked like a team that you would expect ” a top-10 team against a team that is struggling and lacking confidence.”

But the Gophers (9-8, 0-6 Big Ten) hardly looked like the Big Ten cellar-dweller to start the game.

Minnesota kept the game close for nearly 30 minutes. Then, Brian Randle took over.

The sophomore forward scored eight points in a 3:14 span to help spark a 21-2 run by Illinois that put Minnesota away for good.

“When guys are beating you down the court, that’s unacceptable,” Monson said. “(Randle is) athletic and brings energy and certainly busted it open during that stretch.”

It didn’t help matters that while Randle was busy making highlight reels with two three-point plays and half-court alley-oop slam, Minnesota was a frigid 0-7 from the floor.

The Gophers kept the game close throughout the first half, even grabbing a 17-16 lead with 10:17 remaining.

But Illinois hit six of its next nine shots, including three three-pointers to take a 39-31 lead into the locker room at the break.

Minnesota started the second half strongly. Senior forward J’son Stamper grabbed four boards and scored six points in less than three minutes to pull the Gophers within four points with 17:36 remaining.

But Illinois’ shooters were too much for Minnesota.

Senior guard Dee Brown quietly racked up a game-high 17 points and freshman guard Jamar Smith scored 16 points off the bench on 5-8 shooting ” all three-pointers.

“They’re a good team,” senior guard Vincent Grier said. “They can get going in their house if you let them.”

The Gophers didn’t let them, for the first 20 seconds of each possession. But it was the last 15 seconds that Monson was disappointed in.

“One our last defensive principles is finish the war,” Monson said. “We didn’t do a good job tonight of that defensive principle.”

Stamper led the team with his third double-double of the season, scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

Senior guards Vincent Grier and Maurice Hargrow each had 14 points for the Gophers.

But once again, Minnesota came away with only a moral victory.

“We got beat,” Stamper said. “That doesn’t hurt as much.

“When you give up, that’s a feeling you don’t forget.”

Kish honored

Minnesota sophomore wrestler Roger Kish was named Big Ten wrestler of the week by the conference on Wednesday. Kish ” ranked eighth in the nation at 184 pounds ” defeated 12th-ranked Paul Tamilow and No. 9 Paul Bradley this weekend.