Minn. drops another to Illini

.19 and counting.

The longest active losing streak against a single team in the Big Ten continued Saturday as the Minnesota men’s basketball team fell to Illinois again, this time 67-58 in front of the 60th consecutive sellout crowd at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill.

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Big ten tournament
what: Men’s basketball
when: time TBA, Thu – Sun
where: Indianapolis

The reasons the Gophers lost their final regular season game of the year were clearly laid out on the stat sheet.

Liabilities for Minnesota all year, team rebounding, free-throw shooting and stretches of cold shooting once again did in coach Tubby Smith’s squad.

The Gophers (18-12 overall, 8-10 Big Ten) didn’t convert a field goal for the first seven minutes of the game and made just 10-of-17 free throws – reasons coach Tubby Smith could point to as to why Minnesota couldn’t pull off its first victory at Illinois in 30 years (minus a vacated win).

But Smith was most frustrated with the glaring statistic of the afternoon: rebounding disparity.

“When teams get physical with us we have a tough time,” Smith said during his postgame radio interview. “We just aren’t that big in the front line that we can bang back.”

The Illini (13-18, 5-13) out-rebounded Minnesota 45 to 19. Furthermore, coach Bruce Weber’s squad had 18 offensive rebounds, leading to 20 second chance points.

“Anybody who watched this game or listened to this game had to be like ‘are you serious?'” Smith said.

“That’s the toughness area that we’ve been talking about from day one,” Smith said. “I guess we haven’t done the job to make them tougher.”

When rebounding wasn’t a problem for the Gophers, Illini guard Trent Meacham was.

Despite all their shortcomings, the Gophers were within one at 46-45 when freshman guard Blake Hoffarber, who led Minnesota with a team-high 14 points off the bench, knocked down a three-pointer with 7:30 remaining in the second half.

But Meacham helped shut the door on any comeback.

Finishing with a game-high 21 points, Meacham hit back-to-back three-pointers propelling Illinois on a 10-0 run to open a 39-29 lead in the second half.

After Minnesota made a run to get back in the game, Meacham hit another late three, and the maroon and gold — as was the case when the sharpshooting junior got hot in an 84-60 Illini win on Feb. 12 at Williams Arena – couldn’t recover.

The Gophers are locked into the sixth seed at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Minnesota will meet 11th-seeded Northwestern Thursday afternoon at Conseco Field House.