Gophers make late run, fall short of upset

Sarah Mitchell

CHICAGO — The end of the Gophers’ season was a nail-biting, gut-twisting, three-point loss to Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament on Thursday. Iowa held on to beat the Gophers 81-78.
Down by 21 points near the mid-point of the second half, Minnesota mustered whatever character it had left after a trying season.
A driving layup from guard Terrance Simmons brought the Gophers within one at 79-78 with five ticks left on the clock. Just as it looked like Minnesota might persevere, two free throws closed the deal for Iowa.
How typical.
“In the second half, we started scratching and clawing our way back into the game,” Monson said. “The way the game ended was poetic justice for our year. We went down with a fight, but in the end, we came up short.”
A suffocating second-half press by the Gophers changed the pace of the game. Iowa lost touch offensively — the Hawkeyes didn’t score a field goal in the last 10 minutes. They scored just three points in that span, all of which came from the free-throw line.
“Year one continues to be full of excitement,” Iowa’s first-year coach Steve Alford said. “We played as well as we could for 31 minutes, but we don’t handle prosperity any better than when we handle the other end.”
If Minnesota had played a better first half, things could have been a lot different.
Five minutes into the game, the Gophers controlled the tempo and held a convincing 12-7 lead. But then Alford did some talking. He called a timeout and chewed out his team, especially center Jacob Jaacks.
After yelling, “Jaacks, you just got your ass beat,” a red-faced Alford benched the senior while the rest of the team looked on. After the verbal spanking, the Hawkeyes went on a tear to end the first half up 46-30, putting Alford in a better mood.
Iowa made 8-of-10 shots from behind the arc in the half. Sophomore Kyle Galloway had five of those to lead all scorers with 20 at the half.
“In the first five minutes of the game, all our players were on the right page. But then we had a couple of different guys, after that, not all on the same page,” Minnesota forward Dusty Rychart said.
It took Minnesota 10 minutes into the final half to find the same page again.
Just like Alford, Monson resorted to verbal tactics, focusing on Simmons.
“Basically, it took coach Monson getting in my face,” Simmons said. “When I came out, he sat me on the bench and got on me.”
Simmons scored 18 of his 20 points during the second half. All 18 came during the final 10-minute run.
He was also the last Gopher to touch the ball. Simmons took a desperation three-pointer that hit the rim but rolled harmlessly away.
Go figure.
“Wow, what a year,” Monson said. “I’m proud the season ended on our own terms, especially in this year turmoil.”

Sarah Mitchell covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]