Gophers can’t overcome slow start in 73-69 defeat at Utah

Daniel Oturu’s big night was not enough to overcome a 16-0 deficit.

Center Daniel Oturu leaps to block an opponent at Williams Arena on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The Gophers went on to defeat Cleveland State 85-50.

Kamaan Richards

Center Daniel Oturu leaps to block an opponent at Williams Arena on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The Gophers went on to defeat Cleveland State 85-50.

Nick Jungheim

On Friday night, the Gophers played their third game in six days — all in different stadiums and not including The Barn. After falling 64-56 against Butler in Indianapolis on Tuesday, Minnesota traveled west to battle Utah.

Minnesota (1-3) looked jet-lagged to begin the game, allowing Utah (3-0) to quickly jump out to a commanding lead. The Gophers showed resolve in battling back but could never catch the Utes, dropping their third-straight game, 73-69.

“We almost convinced ourselves that the altitude was going to get to us,” head coach Richard Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. “Then when we settled in and said, ‘Okay, relax,’ obviously we battled back.”

After faltering in the second half of their two previous games, the first half proved detrimental in Salt Lake City. Minnesota missed their first six shots while Utah opened the game 7-8 from the field, opening up a 16-0 lead.

In the opening minutes, only sophomore Daniel Oturu kept the Gophers afloat. Oturu made Minnesota’s first basket on a 3-pointer from the top of the key before going on to score the team’s first 10 points. It took the Gophers’ big man just 5:51 to post his fourth-consecutive double-digit scoring game to start the season.

Oturu’s scoring spurt cut the deficit to nine points, but Utah recaptured momentum and led 34-18 with six minutes remaining in the first half. However, Minnesota fought back, scoring 15 of the game’s 20 points before the break. When the teams left the court for intermission, the Gophers trailed 39-33, the closest the game had been since the opening 90 seconds.

Senior Alihan Demir scored the second half’s first five points, cutting the Minnesota deficit to one. Despite having chances to take the lead, the Gophers could never pull ahead and Utah went on an 11-2 run to reestablish a cushion.

Back-to-back 3-pointers from freshman Tre’ Williams and sophomore Gabe Kalscheur snapped a 3:35 scoreless drought and cut the Utah lead to 50-46. A Demir basket and a free throw from redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr then brought the Gophers back within one point. The game remained tight into the final minutes. Although Minnesota had more opportunities to tie and even take the lead, the Utes remained narrowly ahead.

Minnesota hung around thanks to winning the turnover battle 16-5 and finishing with 17 offensive rebounds to Utah’s five. However, that was not enough to overcome a poor shooting night. The Gophers went 26-74 (.351) from the field, while the Utes hit 25-47 (.532) shots. The Gophers made just 5-12 free throws.

“We’re playing hard,” Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network, “17 offensive rebounds, 11 steals. We did a lot of good things. We’re leaving points at the foul line.”

Carr hit two 3-pointers in the game’s final minute, bringing Minnesota back within two points after Utah stretched their lead to seven. However, Carr also missed three free throws in a row in the waning seconds and the Gophers came up just short of the comeback.

“We’re going to be in a lot of close games, that’s just the reality of the situation,” Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. “We have to be able to execute down the stretch. We did for a lot of it, we just missed a couple of free throws.”

With 21 points, Oturu was the game’s leading scorer and posted his third double-double on the year with 18 rebounds. Carr and Kalscheur both hit three 3-pointers and ended with 15 and 13 points respectively. 

Sophomore Jarvis Omersa made his first career start but only played five minutes and did not score. Freshman Isaiah Ihnen made his collegiate debut after missing the season’s first three games with a wrist injury.

“I thought Isaiah was pretty good,” Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. “Eight minutes, I think you can just tell that length, it’s a difference.”

Sophomore Timmy Allen posted a double-double for Utah with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Both Gach, a native of Austin, Minnesota, matched Allen’s 19 points, leaving the two tied as the Utes’ leading scorers on the evening.

The Gophers will return to the Twin Cities for some much-needed rest and practice time. They return to the court on Thursday, Nov. 21 when they host Central Michigan to kick off a four-game home stand.

“This will make us better in the end,” Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. “We just have to keep growing and learning.”