Horrendous shooting hurts Gophers in 76-70 loss to Illini

by Anthony Maggio

With 12-and-a-half minutes left in Minnesota’s men’s basketball team’s 76-70 loss to Illinois, it appeared the Gophers were gaining momentum.

They came back from a three-point halftime deficit to go up 46-42, and held the Illini scoreless for five minutes and 32 seconds.

Then Illinois senior Sean Harrington went off.

The starting forward hit three three-pointers in a minute to put the Illini back in the driver’s seat. Harrington finished the game with 22 points.

“That’s the one lapse we had tonight, keeping an eye on Harrington,” forward Michael Bauer said. “He did a great job shooting tonight.”

Meanwhile, Minnesota (8-4, 0-1 Big Ten) did a horrendous job shooting. The Gophers set record lows for the season in field goals made (18), field goal percentage (30.5), and three point percentage (19.2). Not to mention the season lows in assists (10), and rebounds (32).

Nonetheless, Minnesota kept the game tight, never falling behind by more than five in the second half.

But with 9:28 remaining in the game, the Gophers suffered their first big blow, as Jerry Holman fouled out after playing just 14 minutes. Forty-five seconds later, Minnesota’s other center, Jeff Hagen, joined Holman with five fouls. Gophers coach Dan Monson was not concerned, though. Despite losing his only two true centers with over eight-and-a-half minutes to play, Monson felt his big-men set a tone inside.

“That was the first time our big guys were aggressive enough to foul out,” Monson said. “As dumb as it sounds, the guys fouling out was something good that happened today. We were aggressive in there.”

Bauer and Rick Rickert were left with the task of containing the much taller Illinois frontcourt and held the trio of Illini 6-foot-10 or taller to seven points in the final 9:30.

But preseason Big Ten player of the year Brian Cook already had done his damage. Cook finished with a game high 25 points, while getting to the free throw line 17 times.

Illinois (11-1, 1-0) shot poorly from the line in the final minute to keep Minnesota in the game. Dee Brown and Luther Head both missed two free throws with under a minute to play, but the Gophers were unable to shake their dismal shooting late in the game, losing their first Big Ten home opener under Monson.

“We were fortunate that they missed some shots,” Illinois Coach Bill Self said. “We dodged some bullets.”

Bauer led the way for the Gophers, scoring 17 points. But he only shot 5-of-15 from the floor and 3-of-10 from the three-point line. Rickert shot a miserable 5-of-19 from the floor, while point guard Kevin Burleson went 0-of-6 from beyond the arc.

“In the Big Ten, road wins are hard to come by,” Burleson said. “Guys are upset. We know we let this slip away.”

Anthony Maggio covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]