Men’s hoops fizzles down stretch, falls 67-62

Brian Hall

Just under three minutes into Saturday’s game with Wisconsin, Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson made wholesale changes, replacing each member of his starting five.

Outscored 7-0 to start the game, the coach didn’t see the energy or aggressiveness he wanted from his Gophers squad.

Perhaps Monson should have made complete lineup changes at the end of the game as well.

Minnesota squandered a 13-point second half lead as the Badgers secured a 67-62 win in front of a sold-out Williams Arena.

The announced attendance of 14,854 was the largest home mark of the season.

“We ended the game the same way we started it,” said center Jerry Holman, who led Minnesota with 17 points.

The Gophers gave up seven consecutive points to Wisconsin to start the game and allowed the Badgers to score on their last nine possessions.

In between, Minnesota (14-9, 7-5 Big Ten) played much like the team the Williams Arena faithful had come to know.

Immediately following the first half substitutions, the Gophers used a half court trap to force Wisconsin (16-11, 9-5) into a turnover and capitalized with a Steve Esselink fast-break dunk.

“We came in and helped the flow, got it going,” forward Michael Bauer said.

Minnesota used solid inside play to overcome multiple double-digit Badger leads.

Holman led the charge during a 26-4 Gophers run from 6:32 in the first half to the 17:52 mark in the second, at which point Minnesota led by 12 points.

However, it was then the Gophers ran into Wisconsin’s money man, Kirk Penney.

Penney outscored Minnesota 14-4, cutting the lead to two.

The Gophers battled back and extended the lead once again to nine points, but Penney and the Badgers would not go away.

“We just had momentum coming down the final couple of minutes,” Penney said. “That’s really all it was and we were really fortunate to come away with a victory.”

Overall, Wisconsin outscored Minnesota 21-7 over the final 4:54 while Penney scored 27 of the Badgers final 33 points after scoring only two in the first half.

“We didn’t have an answer for him, whether it was zone or man,” Monson said. “We lost him in the zone a couple of times and he got into a rhythm. He kept them in the game and then won it for them.”

The Gophers struggled down the stretch by failing to get the ball inside to Holman and freshman Rick Rickert, their two leading scorers.

Minnesota scored 38 points in the paint during the game, good for half of its total. But the team settled for outside jumpers as time wound down.

“We didn’t take our time and get good shots,” Holman said. “We were trying to get the home run instead of getting first downs.”

At one point, the Gophers shot five consecutive three pointers.

“It’s what hurt us earlier (this season),” Monson said. “I guess we try to deliver the knockout punch. We didn’t get the ball where we needed to at the end.”

Wisconsin outscored Minnesota 77-57 in the second half of their two meetings this season, each of which the Gophers led at halftime. The Badgers swept Minnesota for only the second time since 1969.

One week ago the talk around Minnesota was of a possible Big Ten title and an NCAA tournament berth.

Now, after two disappointing losses, the postseason initials are quickly evolving from NCAA to NIT. The Gophers have only four regular season tilts remaining to stop the evolution, no matter what five players are on the court.

Brian Hall covers men’s basketball and welcomes
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