Momentum abandons Gophers in first-round loss to Xavier

Minnesota lost its tournament opener for the second-straight year.

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by Marco LaNave

MILWAUKEE âÄî The GophersâÄô late-season magic didnâÄôt appear to make the trip with them to the first round of the menâÄôs basketball NCAA tournament. Minnesota couldnâÄôt find its hot shooting from the previous weekendâÄôs Big Ten tournament, and a seasonâÄôs worth of development struggled to shine through Friday in a 65-54 loss to Xavier. âÄúWeâÄôre definitely disappointed,âÄù junior guard Blake Hoffarber said. âÄúAfter the Big Ten [tournament, we were] feeling good about ourselves. We were hoping we could get past this first round âĦ to do better than last year.âÄù Minnesota (21-14) suffered a second-straight first-round exit, after Xavier (25-8), the No. 6 seed in the West regional, bounced back from 21-percent shooting in the first half. Musketeers All-Atlantic 10 guard Jordan Crawford, who transferred from Indiana in 2008, scored 17 of his 28 points as part of XavierâÄôs 56-percent second-half shooting. âÄúHe seemed to get better as the game went on,âÄù Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said. âÄúWe tried to use different types of looks, but nothing seemed to work.âÄù The 11th-seeded Gophers had respectable support among the 17,875 in attendance at the Bradley Center, but those fans had little to relish after a 26-26 halftime tie. MinnesotaâÄôs only second-half lead came on a layup by senior forward Damian Johnson that made it 30-29 with 18:32 remaining. From there, the Gophers made only seven of their final 31 shots (23 percent). Senior guard Lawrence Westbrook scored 15 points in the first half but missed all eight of his second-half field-goal attempts. âÄúI think I missed a couple of shots that I usually hit. I mean, they felt good; they just didnâÄôt go in,âÄù said Westbrook, who scored 19 points to finish his career with 1,199 âÄî tied for 20th in program history. Xavier seemed to be pulling away when CrawfordâÄôs 3-pointer made it 40-34 with 15:41 to play. But a layup and missed free throw by sophomore guard Devoe Joseph, combined with a 3-point play by sophomore center Colton Iverson, closed it to 40-39 before the MusketeersâÄô next trip down the floor. Then Crawford scored seven points as part of a 15-5 Xavier run that pushed its lead to 11 points with seven minutes to play. Minnesota didnâÄôt come closer than six points the rest of the game. âÄúMaybe guys got a little tired when [the Musketeers] started making their runs and kind of made us feel a little pressure to tie the game with one shot,âÄù said Westbrook, who was the only Minnesota player to score more than seven points. The Gophers couldnâÄôt find production in the areas they had come to expect it during their late-season charge. Iverson, who came on strong later in the season, and fellow sophomore center Ralph Sampson III combined for nine points and played just seven minutes each in the second half. Iverson had five of MinnesotaâÄôs 10 first-half blocks and helped hold Musketeers center Jason Love to 1-of-9 shooting, but he couldnâÄôt stop Xavier from scoring 30 points in the paint and 20 on second chances. The MusketeersâÄô 50 rebounds were a season high for a Gophers opponent. Joseph, the offensive catalyst in the Big Ten tournament, scored only four points, matching his lowest total since becoming the starting point guard in mid-January. Hoffarber, at times the GophersâÄô biggest offensive weapon this season, didnâÄôt score after a pair of first-half 3-pointers. âÄúAny time youâÄôre not hitting shots like we werenâÄôt in the second half, itâÄôs tough,âÄù Hoffarber said. âÄúWe had a couple of open looks that a lot of guys will normally hit âĦ but [Friday] it just wasnâÄôt falling.âÄù