Gophers lose Big Ten tourney opener

The team finished with 23 losses, the most in a season in Minnesota history.

Redshirt junior Charles Buggs pushes towards the net at Williams Arena on March 2.

Image by Kathryn Chlystek, Daily File Photo

Redshirt junior Charles Buggs pushes towards the net at Williams Arena on March 2.

by Ryan Falk

Minnesota’s disappointing season came to an end with the team’s biggest loss of the year.
The Gophers lost 85-52 to Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, with the team’s depleted roster allowing the Illini to shoot 53.8 percent from 3-point range in the game.
Minnesota (8-23, 2-16 Big Ten) finished the 2016 season with the most losses in program history.
Minnesota only had eight players available to play in its final game, and just five of them were on scholarship. Senior forward Joey King was out with an injury, and guards Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer and Kevin Dorsey were suspended for the rest of the season on March 1.
“We made some tough decisions that hurt us in the short term but would help us in the long term,” head coach Richard Pitino said in a press conference after the game.
The Gophers’ inexperienced lineup was outrebounded 35-26 by the Illini and recorded 15 turnovers on Wednesday.
Minnesota’s defense allowed Illinois to shoot 55.2 percent in the game.
“I guess just coming out, fatigue gets to you,” redshirt junior forward Charles Buggs said in a press conference after the game. “And it’s really difficult at first. We’re only playing with a few guys right now.”
Buggs scored a team-high 12 points against Illinois, including a dunk early in the first half that seemed to give the Gophers some energy.
The Illini’s shooting kept them ahead while the Gophers offense struggled.
In addition to committing turnovers, the team couldn’t find a way to get the ball inside to forward Jordan Murphy, who was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team on Monday.
Murphy didn’t attempt a shot until seven minutes into the first half, as he kept getting the ball in front of a double team or far away from the basket.
The freshman finished the game with nine points and nine rebounds but shot 3-14 from the field.
“I think the biggest thing that we can take away from this season and from the situation that we’re in is just that every game you just have to play hard, stay positive no matter what the situation is,” Murphy said in a press conference after the game. “I mean, this really taught us how to play through adversity, I think.”
Walk-on guard Stephon Sharp, the Gophers’ other freshman starter, finished with six points and struggled with his shot as well. Sharp went 2-7 from the field and 0-3 from 3-point range in his fourth start for the shorthanded team.
Minnesota trailed 38-22 at halftime and never got within striking distance of Illinois in the second half.
The team used a 7-0 run in the second half to get within 12 points of the Illini, but then Illinois turned the game into a rout.
The Gophers’ 33-point margin of defeat is the team’s largest of the year.
“I look at the recruiting class. I look at the young talent in our program. And I got a lot to be excited about,” Pitino said in a press conference after the game. “So nothing has really changed in that regard.”