Waning minutes have plagued men’s hoops

Minnesota’s men’s basketball team has lost many games in the last five to 10 minutes.

Adam Fink

To say not much has gone right for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team this season would be an understatement.

But when the Gophers look back on the year, they can pinpoint one area where many games were lost.

Minnesota has struggled all season in the final five to 10 minutes of games.

Whether it is poor execution, inexperience in knowing how to win close games or just a plain lack of confidence, the Gophers have lost five Big Ten games in the final minutes.

These losses have contributed to Minnesota (10-17, 2-13 Big Ten) sitting in the cellar of the Big Ten, with only Saturday’s game against Penn State (9-17, 3-12) remaining on the regular-season schedule.

“It’s never too late to change,” guard Aaron Robinson said. “Every game when we are in it, I expect to win. We got the whole Big Ten Tournament to play for.”

The Gophers have found a combination of ways to lose.

Against Iowa last Saturday, Minnesota mounted a rally from an 18-point hole. Twice in the final two minutes the Gophers had a chance to cut the lead under four, and both times Minnesota didn’t.

It was that lack of execution that has haunted the team since losing to both Michigan State and Indiana in overtime at Williams Arena in January.

“You can say any turnover at any point means the same thing but there isn’t a doubt a turnover with a minute left, you just have to tighten things up,” point guard Adam Boone said. “It usually comes down to turnovers and quality of your shots. We haven’t necessarily had the best shots.”

Boone said he doesn’t feel the Gophers rush shots down the stretch. The junior thinks Minnesota just tends to get out of the offense system.

Part of that has to do with experience. When the Gophers lost at Michigan State on Feb. 14, Boone said he felt the Spartans were used to grinding out close games.

“That is an example where we needed to tighten things up, take better shots and take care of the ball,” Boone said of the Gophers’ 69-58 loss in East Lansing, Mich.

In the Gophers’ defeat of Indiana 73-71 in Bloomington, Ind., last month, Minnesota appeared as though it knew how to win by making several key plays in the final minute.

In the win, Stan Gaines forced a crucial turnover with 40 seconds remaining and Brent Lawson converted at the back-end of a three-point play to tie the game with only seconds left.

However, the contest seemed to be more of an exception to the season-long trend.

“We stayed together,” Robinson said. “We didn’t have that mental lapse. We had 40 minutes of focus.”

While the Gophers said they have confidence down the stretch, Minnesota coach Dan Monson said he believes the team doesn’t always believe in its shooting ability.

The Gophers have been tentative to shoot in the final moments, which has been a reason for the offense getting out of sync.

While the problems have been numerous, Monson has a solution that doesn’t involve any action in the final five to 10 minutes.

“Everything has to go pretty good when you are down four or six in the last couple minutes,” Monson said. “You can’t afford to miss shots. You can’t afford not to get every rebound. You can’t afford not to stop people.

“We are putting ourselves in that position in the first 35 minutes.”