Poor shooting dooms Gophers in blowout loss

Minnesota shot a season-low 31 percent and trailed by as many as 24 points.

Minnesota guard Joe Coleman tries to drive past Indiana guard Victor Oladipo on Sunday at Williams Arena. Indiana defeated Minnesota 69-50.

Marisa Wojcik

Minnesota guard Joe Coleman tries to drive past Indiana guard Victor Oladipo on Sunday at Williams Arena. Indiana defeated Minnesota 69-50.

by Charlie Armitz

When the shots stopped falling for the Gophers, everything else started to fall apart — their lead, their energy level and, seemingly, their season.

Minnesota shot a season-low 31 percent from the field Sunday in a 69-50 loss to No. 23 Indiana at Williams Arena.

The loss essentially ended the Gophers’ chances of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. To make the Big Dance, they would likely have to win the Big Ten tournament on March 8-11 in Indianapolis.

It was Minnesota’s fifth-straight loss and its fourth-straight loss at home, where it has won only two conference games this season.

“It was a pretty ugly display,” head coach Tubby Smith said. “We started out like we were ready to play, and then we started missing some easy shots, and that’s very discouraging for our guys. Then it’s hard to get into any type of rhythm or defensive set.”

Like the Gophers’ home losses to Purdue and Ohio State earlier this season, this one was never a contest — not after Indiana quickly erased a 6-0 deficit and jumped ahead 19-13 midway through the first half.

Minnesota (5-11 Big Ten) had opportunities to score in the paint throughout the game, but its shots wouldn’t fall.

Once that happened, the wheels came off.

After leading 37-26 at halftime, Indiana opened the second half on a 20-9 run. Minnesota’s shooting went from bad — 29 percent at the break — to worse — 25 percent with 13:04 remaining.

Those last 13 minutes looked like they couldn’t pass fast enough for the Gophers and their fans, who lacked energy for most of the game.

“We had some breakdowns,” sophomore Austin Hollins said. “We were missing some easy shots around the baskets, and we had some turnovers, forced and unforced. I think their intensity was a lot higher than ours.”

Hollins led all scorers with 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting, but Minnesota’s other four starters combined for 17 points on 6-for-27 shooting.

Andre Hollins started in place of the injured Julian Welch but scored just six points in 16 minutes and fouled out with 3:07 left.

Early on, Minnesota’s game plan of playing through the post and Ralph Sampson III seemed to work, as Sampson assisted on consecutive 3-pointers by the Hollinses in the first two minutes.

But Sampson finished with just four points and made only one of 11 shots.

His frontcourt partner, Rodney Williams, had three points on 1-for-2 shooting while looking disengaged for most of the game.

“We throw the ball inside, and Ralph is struggling to score, and Rodney’s not looking to score,” Smith said. “This [loss] is the result of how bad it can be if you don’t do those things.”

He added about Williams: “In his mind, he just wasn’t there today at all.”

The Gophers’ bench brought a bit of a spark but lacked firepower on offense and discipline on defense.

“We didn’t come ready to play. We didn’t press the ball like we needed to,” reserve Chip Armelin said. “That’s what happens when you don’t come ready to play — you get beat.”

The Gophers committed 16 turnovers to complement their shooting woes, including several careless offensive fouls.

It was the kind of performance fans expected to see when the team traveled to Indiana in early January after losing four straight games to start the Big Ten season.

Minnesota upset the then-No. 7 Hoosiers 77-74 in Bloomington, Ind., to keep its season afloat for the time being.

The Gophers used the momentum from that win to remain on the NCAA tournament bubble for nearly two months. But after Wednesday’s demoralizing loss to Michigan State, they looked resigned to yet another lost season.

“Today’s theme was to rise to the challenge. We’ve got a lot more to play for than [the Hoosiers] do right now — we ought to be coming in ready to play,” Smith said. “But we didn’t have that sense of urgency. They weren’t really inspired by what I said, obviously.”

Indiana’s win was its first at Williams Arena since January 2008.