Bag of tricks empty at long last

Minnesota’s marked year ended in a 64-53 loss to Iowa State in the first round.

Bob Wothe

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Minnesota’s men’s basketball team has made a habit of falling behind early in most of its games this season.

And yet, somehow, the Gophers always found a way to work themselves back into games, winning 21 of 31 contests and earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

But that strategy backfired the moment they got to the tournament.

Minnesota fell 64-53 to Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Charlotte Coliseum after digging an early hole and never getting closer than four in the second half.

“My initial thought when the pairings went up was that this was going to be a tough draw,” coach Dan Monson said. “Two things we haven’t been good at all year have been shooting from the perimeter and taking care of the basketball, and their style exploits that.”

The Gophers (21-11) struggled all day but had a chance to come within two with less than two minutes left. But Dan Coleman’s wide-open three-point look from the top of the key clanged off the iron.

It was a fitting end to a game in which the Gophers connected on just 5-of-23 shots from behind the arc in an attempt to break Iowa State (19-10) out of its 2-3 zone.

“We haven’t really faced a zone all year,” said senior Aaron Robinson, who was 3-for-12 on three-pointers. “We couldn’t hit the open shots.”

This was true early in the game, as Minnesota found itself on the wrong side of an early 12-2 run. Suddenly, the Gophers were in an 18-11 hole, and it only snowballed from there.

Minnesota had chances to cut into the lead at the free throw line but entered the half trailing 33-23 after missing the front end of three straight bonus opportunities.

On the other end of the floor, Iowa State’s guards were able to take the Gophers off the dribble all day, hitting pull-up jumpers over the smaller Robinson and less athletic Brent Lawson as the Cyclones shot 48 percent in the first half.

As usual, though, the Gophers found a way to get back into the game and cut their deficit to four at 48-44 with 9:28 to go. But Iowa State grabbed offensive rebounds for easy putbacks on its next three possessions, stretching the lead back to 10, and Minnesota never got closer than five again.

“Let’s be honest: We haven’t won a lot of games because we got comfortable offensively,” Monson said. “But once we did get a few baskets, we gave up a couple offensive rebounds, and we couldn’t afford to do that in a game like this.”

Cyclones center Jared Homan had a huge game inside against Jeff Hagen, and his 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks were almost single-handedly responsible for sending the Gophers home.

Homan grabbed Iowa State’s last four defensive rebounds when Minnesota was trying to make a closing run, but he said the Cyclones’ trapping defense played as big a role as any.

“I thought the full-court press disrupted them,” Homan said. “Our guards got their hands up in passing lanes and forced them to make decisions they didn’t want to make.”

The Cyclones’ trap caused serious problems for the Gophers, creating 17 turnovers. But Monson said that didn’t really surprise him.

“If you could have told me we’d have 17 turnovers and as few that led to direct baskets, I would have liked our chances,” Monson said. “Offensive rebounding and shooting against a zone hurt us a lot more.”