Men’s hoops drops to 0-7 in Big Ten play

Adam Fink

In its last three games, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team found a variety of ways to lose.

There were comebacks that fell just short (Purdue), double-digit leads that turned into losses (Michigan State) and heartbreaking finishes (Indiana).

There was none of that in the Gophers’ 61-47 loss at Northwestern on Saturday.

Minnesota played careless with the basketball – committing 17 turnovers including 11 Northwestern steals – struggled on offense and gave away a four-point halftime lead.

In a game that appeared as though neither team wanted to grab control, Northwestern took the reins by outscoring Minnesota 39-21 in the second half.

With the loss, the Gophers (8-11, 0-7 Big Ten) are off to their worst start in the conference since the 1933 team started winless in their first nine Big Ten games.

The team has not won a conference game since defeating Penn State 77-62 last Feb. 22.

His team ahead 51-42 with 3:47 remaining, Northwestern’s Jitim Young drained a three-point shot in front of the Wildcats bench with the shot clock light reading zero.

Not only did it push the deficit into double digits, but it seemed to be the breaker in any Gophers comeback.

“We let them get to us,” senior Michael Bauer said. “That was us not playing our best.”

Young’s basket highlighted a solid second half and a career day for the Wildcats senior.

He scored 26 of his career-high 31 points in the second stanza, while Minnesota’s Kris Humphries and the rest of the Gophers offense fizzled.

Humphries, who led the Gophers with 12 points, scored only one point after halftime. Minnesota only shot 29 percent after the break.

In addition, the Wildcats scored 19 points off Minnesota turnovers.

“We wanted to limit the touches Humphries got, and I think we did,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said in a statement. “He did not get as many touches in the positions that he wanted to, and that was the difference.”

Both teams went back and forth in the first half, with neither squad leading by more than four points.

However, Brent Lawson hit a three-point shot from the baseline with two seconds remaining in the opening stanza to give Minnesota a short-lived 26-22 lead.

A game that seemed winnable at halftime turned into another loss in the standings.

“They made the plays they needed to make to win,” said Bauer, who added eight points. “It’s not acceptable.”

Bauer called this his toughest basketball season of his career. That sentiment can likely be echoed by most of the team.

After starting 0-3 against the conference’s second-tier schools, Minnesota looked like a different team in its last three games. The Gophers appeared close to breaking over into the win column.

In addition, the team seemed to bond following the loss of Moe Hargrow, who transferred to Arkansas.

But against Northwestern (8-10, 3-4) the Gophers – and their camaraderie – evaporated into the crowd of 4,468 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The schedule does not get much easier. Minnesota plays at Big Ten leader Wisconsin on Wednesday and then hosts conference contender Illinois this Sunday.

“Hopefully, people won’t check out,” Bauer said. “We are at the point where guys can give it all up or go back to work.

“I think the guys are going to want to work hard to get our first win.”

Barn notes

• Gophers guard Ben Johnson saw his first game action in Evanston, Ill., since transferring from the Wildcats.

Johnson, who didn’t play when Minnesota made the trip to Northwestern last year because of illness, scored eight points.

The senior transferred from the Wildcats after the 2001 season.

• Minnesota is winless on the road this season and has not won away from Williams Arena since defeating Temple last March 26 in a National Invitational Tournament game.