WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. –Some two weeks removed from the start of a devastating chain of events, the Minnesota men’s basketball team has had enough of it.
No more questions, no more talk, no more excuses.
Therein lies the problem. Because of the season-ending injury to John-Blair Bickerstaff and the defection of Joel Przybilla, 40 percent (Shane Schilling and Kyle Sanden) of the Gophers’ starting lineup is new. New not only to being on the floor with each other, but being on the floor period.
Minnesota didn’t want to use that as an excuse or the main topic of discussion after the Gophers laid an ostrich-egg in a 97-61 flogging inside Purdue’s Mackey Arena. But after such a dismal performance, the Gophers had two options: Praise the 25th-ranked Boilermakers (19-7, 10-3 Big Ten) or point to a lack of familiarity as catalysts for the worst loss of the season.
They chose both.
“When you are short-handed like we are, things have to go well, especially early, and they didn’t,” Gophers (12-11, 4-9) coach Dan Monson said. “Short-handed or not we haven’t been a good road team, and I think it’s magnified now because we have guys out of position.”
The players forced to play extended minutes or out of position — Ryan Wildenborg played a season-high 14 minutes at center and 6-foot-9 Nick Sinville playing center — led to massive confusion on both ends of the floor. A Purdue team that has won six in a row swooped in for the easy kill.
“I think it’s just one of those things where we caught them at the right time for us, and they caught us at the wrong time for them,” Purdue coach Gene Keady said. “We just came out and played really good defense and took them out of whatever they wanted to do.”
By the time the buzzer mercifully ended the game, Minnesota surrendered season highs in points, field-goal percentage (65 percent), field-goals made (36), assists (28) and steals (15).
They also committed 28 turnovers, leading to a plethora of easy layups and free shots found only at a rigged carnival.
“They had pretty good pressure, but it was mostly us,” said freshman guard Kevin Burleson. “They knew where to be at on defense and we just gave them the ball too many times. A team like that is going to convert every time. It snowballed. That’s when we have to stop it and we didn’t.”
The youth, inexperience and unrequested lineup shuffle has, at least for one more game, perpetuated Minnesota’s turbulent season on the road and in their minds.
The last time the Gophers won a road game was Dec. 28 at Georgia. With a nonconference blip at Seton Hall on Wednesday, then Iowa and Michigan State left before the Big Ten tournament, they may not win another road game. Throw in Ohio State and the schedule-makers have done wonders for Minnesota’s confidence.
“The best thing would be to have a good game on the road right now and get some of that confidence,” Monson said. “That’s the number one thing we’re lacking. We came out a lot like Wisconsin where we got a shot or two (early), but once things went bad, we don’t have a lot of remedies. Say what you want about trying to change things, but that’s plagued us all season.”
With visions of the Wisconsin blowout in full view, Minnesota had a 5-4 lead on a Burleson three-pointer less than three minutes into the game. Six minutes later it was 26-5 and Purdue went on to shoot a scorching 72 percent in the first half en route to a 58-26 halftime lead.
The Boilermakers had four players in double figures, led by senior Mike Robinson’s 18 points and four steals. Schilling had 15 points and Terrance Simmons 13, but no assists for either of the pair. The two also combined for 12 turnovers.
There wasn’t much to say after a game in which both teams first emptied their benches halfway through the first half. It wasn’t a lack of effort, it was all just a microcosm of the season.
“The first thing coach said to us was, ‘You can’t tell me if this was at home we’d get beaten by 35 points,'” Simmons said. “He’s right. We can come out at home and play hard and with emotion.
“We come out on the road and a lot of times we hold our heads down, realizing that we can’t do anything about the situations that happened. No matter what goes on, we have 10 guys and we need to stay together.”
Mark Heller covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]