Unless the Minnesota men’s basketball team plans on winning the Big Ten tournament next week in Indianapolis, the Gophers likely won’t be dancing come mid-March.
Again, Minnesota stuck with a ranked opponent. And again, the Gophers faltered down the stretch, letting their final opportunity of a regular season signature win, slip through their fingertips by falling to No. 17 Indiana 69-55 Wednesday night at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
“We haven’t found that toughness down the stretch,” coach Tubby Smith said.
If college basketball games were 30-to-35 minutes, Minnesota (18-11 overall, 8-9 Big Ten) would likely be at the top of the conference.
But they are not. They are 40 minutes, and the Gophers know that all too well by now.
With less than eight minutes left in the second half Minnesota was tied with the Hoosiers (14-3, 25-5) after senior guard Lawrence McKenzie, who finished with a game-high 22 points, hit one-of-two free throws.
Four minutes and a few too many turnovers later and the Gophers were down 10. A few more empty possessions later and Minnesota was down as many as 16, allowing Hoosiers interim coach Dan Dakich to take out his seniors to a standing ovation on Senior Night – including likely Big Ten Player of the Year, forward D.J. White, who finished with 17 points.
The Gophers, who are now looking at either a NIT berth, or an invitation into the newly constructed College Basketball Invitational, are well past the point of moral victories, but at least the maroon and gold did once again show fight – something that could rarely be said about the 9-22 squad of a season ago.
After the Gophers rallied back from an early eight-point deficit, to trim the Hoosiers’ lead to one with 1.6 seconds left in the first half, Minnesota could have went into shell shock when White caught a full court inbound pass and proceeded to drill his first career three-pointer at the halftime buzzer – with 6-foot-9-inch junior center Jon Williams right in his face nonetheless.
The Gophers, however, did no such thing. McKenzie got hot early in the second half and after senior forward Dan Coleman, who finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, connected on a put back layup, Minnesota had a 47-46 lead.
That lead, however, lasted for roughly 18 seconds as the Hoosiers went on an 18-3 run.
“We made some carless turnovers and we had open shots that didn’t go in,” Smith said.