Haluska’s hot hand too much for Gophers

Zach Eisendrath

;IOWA CITY, Iowa – The questions surrounding Minnesota’s men’s basketball team entering Saturday’s game at Iowa were simple yet important ones that needed to be answered.

One: Could the Gophers still be effective inside while playing without injured junior center Spencer Tollackson for the first time this season? – something they will need to do for at least the next three weeks. And two: Could this group of players finally win a road game?

The answers weren’t very encouraging.

The Hawkeyes (10-7 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) took full advantage of Minnesota’s inability to replace Tollackson’s offense, taking down the Gophers 60-49 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was Minnesota’s 16th loss in its last 17 games away from Williams Arena.

After the game, interim coach Jim Molinari made it clear that his team needs to find more scorers, something it was already searching for when Tollackson was in the lineup.

“Scoring’s an issue,” Molinari said. “The guys who are playing a lot of minutes, like Kevin Payton, Bryce (Webster), Jamal (Abu-Shamala) – they have to contribute more scoring.”

Already dealing with their share of adversity this season, the Gophers received bad news last week when they learned they will be without Tollackson – clearly their most effective interior player – for at least three weeks after the big man broke two bones in his left hand late in the first half of last Sunday’s 68-45 loss at Wisconsin.

Tollackson, who was averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, was replaced in the starting lineup by the freshman Webster.

But from the onset of the game, neither Webster nor his teammates could pick up the scoring load lost by Tollackson’s departure.

Nobody did any scoring for Minnesota in the first half. The Gophers managed a measly 16 points on 26.9 percent shooting but were down just six points at the break, 22-16.

Minnesota (7-10, 1-2) wasn’t in the game for long though, as Iowa senior guard Adam Haluska found his game in the opening minutes of the second half and proved too much to overcome.

Haluska, the Big Ten’s leading scorer entering the game, scored early and often in the second half, finished with a game-high 22 points and ignited the Hawkeyes’ offense, which led by as many as 10 points.

The Gophers cut the deficit to five points with less than seven minutes to play on a three-pointer by junior guard Lawrence McKenzie.

Minnesota had a chance to pull within four after establishing some late momentum, but Abu-Shamala missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity with 1:20 remaining.

Still, Molinari said he was pleased that his team battled until the game’s final moments.

“I was proud of our young men today,” Molinari said. “We can talk about some things we didn’t do Ö but the reality is if he makes those, we have a chance. And that’s what we wanted to do.”

McKenzie and junior forward Dan Coleman combined for 36 points, but both said without Tollackson’s scoring, others need to help contribute offensively.

McKenzie said with opposing teams paying extra attention to himself and Coleman, role players need to step up.

“While Spencer’s out we need a lot of guys to step up,” he said. “Not just one guy, we need a combination of guys to step up and hit shots for us.”

The Gophers only accumulated 14 points in the paint – most of which were Coleman’s – so it was easy to see why Coleman said he already misses Tollackson.

“It would be nice to have Spence, of course,” Coleman said. “But he’ll be back.”