Wednesday night might have provided a glimpse of what life in the Big Ten conference might be like this year for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team.
If so, it could be a long season for the Gophers.
Minnesota fell to Clemson 90-68 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, extending its losing streak to five games.
“We did not play with the passion or energy to make ourselves the team we need to,” coach Dan Monson said.
The Gophers (2-5 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) spent a majority of their time preparing for the game by focusing on themselves, rather than the Tigers. And it showed.
Minnesota appeared unprepared for Clemson’s full-court pressure which led to 24 Gophers turnovers.
“We didn’t get too comfortable in (the press),” sophomore guard Brandon Smith said. “That kind of deviated the offense and kind of made things speed up, which we (didn’t want to do).”
Tigers fourth-year coach Oliver Purnell, who has led Clemson to its best month in program history with eight consecutive wins, said Minnesota was smart to focus on itself entering the game, although it might not have looked like a wise idea.
“When you’re struggling you do have to focus on yourself,” he said. “The press did bother them, but they did shoot 73 percent against us, so that tells me they were prepared.”
In the first half, the Gophers shot a whopping 72.7 percent from the field, but had 20 fewer attempts than the Tigers.
Clemson (8-0 overall, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) jumped out to a 17-12 lead midway through the half thanks to seven Minnesota turnovers in the first seven minutes and a 16-4 rebounding edge in favor of the Tigers.
But the Gophers rallied quickly, as junior center Spencer Tollackson scored six points during an 8-0 run by Minnesota to tie the game with just less than eight minutes remaining in the half.
The two teams virtually traded baskets for the remainder of the half – except the Gophers were getting two points per basket while Clemson was getting three.
The Tigers hit five three-pointers in six possessions to take a 46-37 halftime lead.
Monson said he is frustrated his team plays so well on defense at the start of games, but then tends to fold. It was the same in this game according to Smith.
“Our mindset changed,” he said. “And it didn’t seem like we wanted it as bad as they did.”
The second half started much like the first half, with the Minnesota continuing to turn the ball over and give up second-chance opportunities.
The Gophers were out-rebounded 24-5 on the offensive glass, leading to 21 extra shot attempts for the Tigers. The lack of perimeter defense was also a problem as Clemson knocked down a season-high 12 three-pointers.
Five of those three-pointers were by sophomore guard K.C. Rivers, who came off the bench to score 22 points. The Tigers’ bench out-scored Minnesota’s 40-5.
Junior Dan Coleman led the Gophers with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and Smith finished 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
But it made no difference how well Minnesota shot the ball, because the Gophers were dominated in nearly every other aspect of the game.
And, as for where his team is at, Monson was left searching for answers after the game.
“I know it looks like we are a long ways away right now, he said. “I’m not sure, maybe we are.”