Defense good, offense bad for Gophers in loss to No. 4 Purdue

Minnesota saw its seven-game win streak ended by the undefeated Boilermakers.

by Marco LaNave

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. âÄî The GophersâÄô first shot at an elite Big Ten opponent was the perfect stage to display their solid defense, but it was not the ideal moment to fall flat on offense. MinnesotaâÄôs defensive pressure slowed No. 4 Purdue for most of the first half, but the Gophers were ultimately doomed by a season-worst shooting performance in a 79-60 loss to the Boilermakers at Mackey Arena on Tuesday night. Minnesota (2-1 Big Ten, 11-4 overall) forced Purdue (2-0, 14-0) to tie its season high of 17 turnovers but often failed to convert on those extra chances, shooting just 31 percent Tuesday night. âÄúWe didnâÄôt capitalize on a lot of our second-shot opportunities [and] in transition,âÄù Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said. Minnesota fell behind 8-0 in the first 3:06, but junior forward Paul Carter scored 10 points to help the Gophers take a 24-20 lead with 6:36 remaining in the first half. Purdue (2-0, 14-0) responded with a 12-0 run to take a lead it would not relinquish. The Gophers didnâÄôt make a field goal for nearly seven minutes until freshman forward Rodney Williams hit a 3-point shot with 16 seconds remaining before halftime. That cut PurdueâÄôs lead to 32-28, but Boilermakers guard Chris Kramer answered with a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to firmly snatch the momentum for the Boilermakers. The Gophers didnâÄôt come any closer the rest of the night, as they made 30 percent of their second-half field goals, including one of 12 shots from 3-point range. The Boilermakers, after making five of 16 shots (31 percent) to start the game, made 18 of their final 28 (64 percent). Minnesota played its second straight game without sophomore center Ralph Sampson III, who sprained his right ankle in practice last week. The teamâÄôs leading rebounder and shot blocker before his injury, Sampson dressed but didnâÄôt play on Tuesday night. Minnesota still out-rebounded Purdue 39-36, largely because of a 19-6 edge in offensive rebounds, which the cold-shooting Gophers needed more than the Boilermakers did. The strain of SampsonâÄôs absence was felt in other ways, though. âÄúA couple of guys got fatigued; it was kind of rough out there without Ralph,âÄù said senior forward Damian Johnson, who scored all of his 12 points in the second half. âÄúA lot of guys got to play extra time at positions theyâÄôre not really used to, and I think it kind of wore some of them out.âÄù MinnesotaâÄôs bench outscored its Purdue counterpart 26-10, but four Boilermakers starters scored at least 15 points. Purdue forwards JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel each had a double-double âÄî 10 and 11 rebounds, respectively âÄî and combined for seven blocks. âÄúWe just let them kind of pressure us out of our offense,âÄù said junior point guard Al Nolen, who made one of his 10 field goal attempts. âÄúWhen shots arenâÄôt falling, guys got to look to get aggressive and take it to the rim, and I donâÄôt think we did that tonight.âÄù Carter helped with a season-high 15 points, but he played only five minutes in the second half because of foul trouble. Junior guard Blake Hoffarber sat for the final 14:32 of the first half after committing two early fouls, and he was quieted to a single 3-pointer, a far cry from his consistent double-digit totals during the GophersâÄô seven-game winning streak. Senior guard Lawrence Westbrook, who made just three of nine field goals, committed four first-half turnovers and scored only 2 points in the second half. His frustration seemed to come out when he was briefly in the face of Hummel after Hummel secured a physical rebound in the final minutes. âÄúPurdueâÄôs a team thatâĦsome guys really arenâÄôt too fond of [each other],âÄù said Damian Johnson, who was called for a technical foul moments later. âÄúHopefully we work things out next game and donâÄôt let this turn into a one-on-one battle.âÄù The Gophers have little time to dwell on the defeat, as TuesdayâÄôs game began a seven-game stretch in which they play five games against three of the Big TenâÄôs top teams in Purdue, No. 10 Michigan State and Ohio State, which dropped from the top 25 for the first time this season on Monday.