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Published June 21, 2024

Gophers’ loss to Illini has familiar ring to it

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A mathematical formula espoused only by winning coaches was once again raised after Wednesday night’s 68-56 Illinois win over the Gophers: A team’s success is inversely proportional to the hyperbole the coach heaps on it.
Witness Illini coach Lon Kruger, whose team is now 16-7 overall, 8-2 in the Big Ten, discussing the Gophers (9-12, 2-8). While Minnesota coach Clem Haskins has acknowledged his team’s lack of height this season, he’d get an argument from Kruger.
“They started a line-up that was huge,” Kruger said. “(Sam) Jacobson is 6-7, (Quincy) Lewis is 6-8. They have four guys capable of scoring 20 points. We were very concerned.”
In reality, he spotted both Jacobson and Lewis an inch, and while four players have scored 20 or more points this season for Minnesota, the three (Lewis, Eric Harris and Kevin Clark) other than Jacobson have done it only a combined five times.
Illinois has no one on its team taller than 6-8, so it’s possible that Kruger’s misjudgment was because the Gophers just appeared bigger. More likely, though, he was showing deference to last year’s Big Ten champions, who continue to sink to depths much harder to exaggerate than their height or scoring prowess.
The Gophers cut a 15-point second-half deficit to seven with 2:44 left, but returned to familiar territory, making key mistakes down the stretch.
“We had opportunities to get back into the game, but we couldn’t cash it at the right times,” Haskins said.
That game summary and quote have been repeated various times in the course of this season. Only a few details separated it from the rest.
One was that the Gophers came out in a “freak” defense designed to stop Illinois guard Kevin Turner, who burned Minnesota for 24 points in last year’s 96-90 victory at Assembly Hall. Haskins called the new-look defense “2-3 with a T,” in which Clark shadowed Turner while the rest of the team played as they would in a 2-3 zone.
“We tried to take the ball out of (Turner’s) hands as much as possible,” Haskins said. “In the second half we were able to do that, but in the first half he got loose quite a bit and scored some points.”
He scored 14 (out of a game-high 19) to be exact. He and teammates Matt Heldman and Jerry Hester all hit three-pointers in the first four minutes, quickly forcing Minnesota to revert to its familiar man-to-man, though Haskins tried a few other zones in the second half.
The other unanticipated development was the absence of Eric Harris from the starting line-up, and of Russ Archambault from the state of Illinois, for breaking team rules. Haskins said Harris’ violation was “nothing major,” but Archambault’s was apparently severe enough to mandate him being sent back to Minneapolis on Wednesday morning. Haskins declined to discuss the specifics of the transgressions.
“I don’t get into team rules,” Haskins said. “We just want to go out and play basketball. I don’t have a lot of rules, but I do enforce them.”
Harris, who missed his first start since the 1995-96 season, came off the bench to score 10 points in 34 minutes. He was also the only Minnesota player to hit a three-pointer, knocking down three of them.
That contrasted with the bombarding of Illinois, which hit nine, including six in the first half, after which the Illini led 40-29.
“They just move the ball real well,” Harris said. “They shoot very well. You can’t give them open looks, because they’ll hit most of them.”
The fact that Illinois struggled in the second half (31 percent from the field) didn’t matter, because Minnesota fared about the same (32 percent).
Harris missed the front end of a one-and-one with four minutes left that would’ve cut the deficit to eight points. Then, when Minnesota finally got the lead down to seven with the chance to cut it to five with 2:10 remaining, Miles Tarver had the ball knocked away, and Jarrod Gee hit two free throws to effectively seal the win.

“We got beat by one of the very good teams in the Big Ten. It’s a lot better than what people give it credit for,” he said. “I can’t believe they’re not ranked in the top 20.”

Gophers 29 27 — 56
Illinois 40 28 — 68

Minnesota (9-12)
Lewis 3-8 4-7 10, Tarver 0-1 0-0 0, Sanden 2-2 0-0 4, Jacobson 7-19 2-3 16, Clark 4-10 4-4 12, Nathaniel 2-2 0-0 4, Schoenrock 0-0 0-0 0, Harris 3-9 1-3 10, Broxsie 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-51 11-17 56.
Illinois (16-7)
Hester 4-11 6-6 17, Johnson 0-2 2-4 2, Gee 5-7 4-5 14, Heldman 2-6 0-0 6, Turner 8-16 0-0 19, Chukwudebe 2-2 0-0 4, Davis 1-4 0-0 3, Boline 0-0 0-0 0, McClain 1-4 1-2 3, Storey 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-52 13-17 68.
Three-pointers — Gophers 3-15 (Lewis 0-3, Jacobson 0-3, Clark 0-2, Harris 3-7), Illinois 9-24 (Hester 3-8, Heldman 2-6, Turner 3-7, Davis 1-3). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Minnesota 31 (Clark 7), Illinois 33 (Gee 11). Assists — Minnesota 9 (Clark 4), Illinois 16 (Heldman 6). Total fouls — Minnesota 17, Illinois 17. A-12,204.

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