Purdue loss leaves team at 0-3 in Big Ten

by C.J. Spang

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. ” Minnesota’s men’s basketball coach Dan Monson has talked all season about his team needing to find its identity.

After Saturday’s 72-55 loss at Purdue, it might have found it: Big Ten cellar dweller.

And it’s far from where the Gophers expected to be after making the NCAA tournament last season.

“I didn’t really see us coming out and losing three straight (in the Big Ten),” said senior guard Adam Boone. “It’s a difficult league, and we haven’t played well. If you’re not playing well in this league, you’re not usually winning.”

Early in Saturday’s contest, it looked like Minnesota was going to break into the Big Ten win column when it opened up a 9-2 lead just four minutes into the game.

But the Boilermakers (7-8 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) came back and hit seven of their next 10 shots to grab their own seven-point lead, 29-22.

The Gophers (9-5, 0-3) countered with an 11-4 run to knot the game at 33 heading into halftime.

The lead was traded four times to open the second half before Purdue took control with a 21-5 run highlighted by back-to-back, wide-open dunks by junior forward Marcus White.

White was left alone underneath the basket twice and threw down a pair of emphatic dunks, sealing the Boilermakers’ victory.

White led all scorers with 17 points while senior forward Matt Kiefer notched a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds for Purdue.

“It’s a combination of we’re not playing good enough and we’re not confident enough right now, and Purdue was (confident),” Monson said. “They made plays, and I thought they were a lot tougher and more aggressive during that stretch.”

The Gophers had three players reach double figures in scoring. Senior guards Boone, Maurice Hargrow and Vincent Grier had 11, 10 and 10 points, respectively.

“They’re the ones that shot the ball during that stretch,” Monson said. “They’re the ones that did the things that dictated the game, and they weren’t good enough.”

After having some success running a full-court press against Northwestern and Wisconsin, Minnesota pressed early against Purdue and had some similar success.

The Gophers were the beneficiaries of 17 turnovers, but had just seven steals.

As the game progressed, the Boilermakers were able to wear down the Minnesota defenders and exploit the Gophers’ subpar three-point defense.

Coming into the game, Minnesota and Purdue were 10th and 11th respectively in the conference in three-point defense.

Both teams were 5-10 from beyond the arc in the first half, but the Gophers went just one for 11 in the second while Purdue was four-of-nine.

“We’re on the bottom looking up right now after three games,” Monson said. “And that’s not a pretty place to be when we’ve got so many good teams we haven’t even seen yet. I don’t know if it’s a step up or back, but I think it’s reality where we’re at right now. And reality’s not good.”

Minnesota now begins what arguably will be its toughest stretch of the season on a three-game losing streak as the Gophers take on Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio State in their next five games.

“We all feel like we can’t stomach another loss,” said sophomore center Spencer Tollackson. “But our backs are against the wall, we’re 0-3 in the (Big) Ten and that can’t happen to this team with the direction that we want to take things.”