Gophers break losing streak with 68-59 win over Illinois

Minnesota hadn’t won a game since Jan. 8 heading into Saturday’s victory.

Redshirt junior Reggie Lynch looks to shoot on Jan. 28 at the Sports Pavilion.

Chris Dang, Daily File Photo

Redshirt junior Reggie Lynch looks to shoot on Jan. 28 at the Sports Pavilion.

Jack White

Fans of Gophers basketball had something to cheer about for the first time in 24 days Saturday.

Minnesota (16-7, 4-6 Big Ten) snapped its five-game losing streak with a 68-59 victory over Illinois (13-11, 3-8 Big Ten) Saturday in Champaign, Illinois.

“Losing five in a row was very annoying and very tough on us,” center Reggie Lynch told reporters Saturday. “But we didn’t let it go to our heads and break us down. We fought through and knew we had one of the best defenses in the country and the conference.”

Minnesota watched its 13-point lead dwindle to six with 3:41 left in the game.

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill and center Maverick Morgan scored six points each on a 12-3 run to bring their team within six.

The Gophers finished off the Illini by hitting four of their last five free throws.

Lynch scored 15 points, his highest total since non-conference play. He also added six rebounds in 32 minutes of play.

“When Reggie Lynch stays out of foul trouble, obviously we’re a different team,” head coach Richard Pitino told reporters.

Lynch got the ball off a rebound in the first half and kicked out to guard Amir Coffey. Coffey took the ball and drew a foul as he drilled a shot from behind the arc. Coffey finished the four-point play on a made free throw. He finished with 13 points and three assists.

Guard Nate Mason had his best shooting performance since Jan. 1. Mason shot 42.9 percent from the floor. He ended with 13 points and three steals.

Mason was part of a defensive effort that forced 10 turnovers. The Gophers had just five.

Minnesota’s opponents shot 50 percent or better against the team for three consecutive matchups heading into the Illinois game, but this game, the Gophers held the Illini to 38.1 percent from the field.

Guard Akeem Springs had the ball in his hands near the end of the game once again. He hit a 3-point shot as the shot clock expired to put the Gophers up by ten with 5:31 to go in the game.

Mason said he and Springs held a team meeting prior to the Illinois matchup.

“I felt like that helped us,” Mason told reporters. “Kind of got their heads out of their butt.”

Springs scored double-digit points for the fourth consecutive game. Springs tallied 14 points, including four 3-pointers on eight attempts.

Hill picked up two fouls early in the first half for Illinois. His first half got tougher when he drove to the rim off a pick. Hill went up to slam the ball home, only to be rejected by Lynch and send the Gophers on a fast break. Lynch had two rejections in the game.

Hill was held to 13 points in the game though the Illini’s leading scorer averages 17 points per game.

Illinois closed out the second half on a 7-2 run to tie the game at 35. The Gophers came out in the second half with a 9-2 run of their own.

Minnesota heads home for a game against Iowa on Feb. 8.

“We don’t talk about [the] NCAA tournament,” Pitino told reporters. “We want to go. That is the goal, but we just narrowed our focus.”