Przybilla-less Gophers lose to Illinois 89-80

Sarah Mitchell

Joel Przybilla has not officially announced his departure from the Minnesota men’s basketball program, but as far as some fans in attendance for the Gophers’ 89-80 loss to Illinois Thursday are concerned, the 7-foot-1 center is long gone.
Exhibit A: When Gophers coach Dan Monson was announced during pregame introductions, only applause was heard. Some Minnesota backers even rose to their feet.
Exhibit B: Then there was the outpouring of “love” at halfime. One contestant in a halftime game was from Przybilla’s hometown of Monticello, which brought an onslaught of boos.
While the fans seem ready to move on, Monson patiently waits.
“Nobody takes their 7-foot player and throws him away,” Monson said.
“If he comes back it would have to be to get an education. It’s not going to come back to play the last four games. His actions here the last two days haven’t shown that’s what’s going to happen.”
Przybilla has been somewhat MIA since being suspended by Monson for lack of academic commitment on Tuesday — just one day after being named Big Ten player of the week. Monson said Thursday that he has not spoken to Przybilla since Tuesday, adding that the sophomore has not attended class since then.
“I think it’s obvious his plans probably, right now at least, aren’t here,” Monson said. “So, we have to move forward as a team.”
Monson said his focus now is on the Gophers, who are sticking out their commitment.
“I’m really proud of these guys who played (Thursday),” Monson said. “It was a great effort by some guys who are working hard on and off the court.”
As expected, despite the absence of Przybilla, the Gophers’ (12-10, 4-8 Big Ten) season did continue Thursday. The yo-yoing Illini (16-7, 8-4) managed to crawl away from The Barn with a win after losing sizable leads several times in the second half.
“We didn’t handle the leads very well,” Illinois coach Lon Kruger said. “Some decisions late weren’t the decisions of a ball club this late in the season.”
Minnesota shot just 38.7 percent in the first half (Illinois led 39-34 at the break), showing it has little inside game left.
But the Gophers revived in the second.
Minnesota forward Dusty Rychart made the loudest noise in the final 20 minutes after mustering two points in the first half. Rychart dumped in 18 to finish the game as Minnesota’s leading scorer.
Two other Gophers finished the game in double figures — Shane Schilling (14) and Kevin Burleson (15) — but it wasn’t enough to cover up players playing out of position.
Reeling from the loss of Przybilla and John-Blair Bickerstaff, Minnesota is looking to regain some rhythm on Saturday when it travels to Purdue.
“Everybody’s got to play a little bit bigger role now,” guard Mitch Ohnstad said. “If you asked anyone on the team whether they would be willing to do that, they’d probably say, ‘Yes.'”

Sarah Mitchell covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]