There is a fine line to winning, and Minnesota’s men’s basketball team is finding that barrier difficult to cross.
After making a 15-point comeback at Purdue last Wednesday before losing, the Gophers again found themselves in a large hole Saturday against Indiana.
The Gophers dug themselves into an 18-point deficit before rallying, only to fall short 86-81 in overtime against the Hoosiers at Williams Arena.
Playing without Moe Hargrow (11.4 points per game) for the first time since he quit the team Friday, Minnesota came back behind a tenacious zone defense, a determined Kris Humphries and an all-around team effort.
In the end, it came down to the Gophers missing two free throws in overtime and Indiana’s A.J. Moye scoring four points.
“We put ourselves in a position to win,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “But when you are struggling, you don’t make the plays. They made the plays to win and we didn’t make the plays.”
Minnesota (8-9, 0-5 Big Ten) is off to its worst start since 1988, when the team started the conference schedule with the same record. Sixteen years ago, however, those Gophers won game number six.
The difference between earning a win Saturday and losing wasn’t lost on Hoosiers coach Mike Davis.
“When you get down, you get down,” Davis said. “It’s only going to take one win for them to get going in the right direction.”
Early on it didn’t seem as though Saturday was going to be that day.
Minnesota switched to a zone defense near the end of the first half when the deficit had swelled to 42-24.
This slowed Indiana’s tempo and allowed Minnesota to mount a comeback.
“We got to get that early start and we wouldn’t be in that position,” said Minnesota’s Stan Gaines, who had a career-high 16 points. “It’s hard to come back.”
Humphries, who scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half, made two free throws to give Minnesota a 71-68 lead with 3:21 remaining.
“We’re putting ourselves into position to win games,” Humphries said. “It’s a situation where we’ve got to buckle down.”
Instead, the Hoosiers (10-6, 4-1) answered. Indiana’s Bracey Wright, who finished with 22 points and was one of five Hoosiers in double figures, scored four of his team’s next six points.
Trailing 75-73, the Gophers had two options: try for the tie or go for the win. Minnesota opted for the first choice and Kris Humphries muscled his way into the paint for a soft hook shot to force an extra five-minute session.
“We actually did talk about it,” Monson said. “It’s easy to hindsight. There is no way you are going to jack a three at home, down two.”
Twice in the past week, Minnesota has found itself in a position to win in the waning minutes. And twice the team has lost.
While Gaines called Saturday’s defeat part of the team’s learning curve, the lessons are becoming harder to swallow.
And for a team that is only a few plays from sitting in the upper half of the standings, another loss makes it even tougher to stay focused and upbeat.
“We can’t string anything together until we get a win,” Monson said. “We are almost there and we need to get through this. There is a very fine line.”