Gophers drop second straight with home loss to Purdue

The game against Purdue on Thursday night was supposed to be a defensive battle, and it certainly was that. It was also what junior Lawrence Westbrook called his biggest game as a Gopher, one that they needed to win. That part didn’t go as well, as Minnesota trailed nearly the entire game and lost to No. 18 Purdue, at home, 70-62. It was the second straight loss for the Gophers after a 16-1 start — they were upset by unranked Northwestern on Sunday — with five out of their next seven games on the road. “It’s critical,” head coach Tubby Smith said. “We’ve lost two games at home now. Hopefully we can not be as distracted and guys will start to understand it’s us against them. Sometimes I think guys are waiting for someone else to do something to spark or ignite us.” Al Nolen led the Gophers with 17 points, four steals and went 10-for-10 from the free-throw line in a tightly-officiated game. Lawrence Westbrook had 12 points and Damian Johnson had nine points, three blocks and three steals. The Boilermakers came into the game with the nation’s best defensive field goal percentage, and shut down a Gophers shooting attack that was already struggling. Minnesota finished shooting a season-low 27.6 percent from the floor, and Smith said the Purdue defense was the best he’s seen all year. “They got after us,” Smith said. “We knew that coming in. We tried to prepare for it but obviously just didn’t get the job done.” The pressuring man-to-man defenses of both teams left much of the game in fast breaks and loose balls. Even more was from the free throw line. There were 49 fouls called in the game, including 22 against Minnesota. It took less than six minutes for Purdue to commit seven fouls in the first half, and finished both halves in the double-bonus. For Minnesota, both Nolen and Damian Johnson were in foul trouble and Nolen fouled out. In the final six minutes, 24 of the 28 points scored were from the line. Purdue didn’t make a field goal for the final eight minutes, 58 seconds. “The refs were calling it tight tonight and it was definitely tough to find a rhythm in there,” Nolen said. For the second straight game the Gophers offense failed to get much production from their big men. With senior center Jonathan Williams out with a calf injury, freshmen centers Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson played in tandem and each finished with six points. Against Northwestern, they combined for six. “We’ll just have to find guys that can throw it inside and are willing to throw it inside,” Smith said. “I thought tonight it was very evident that was an issue for us.” Purdue was the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten, but was playing without Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Robbie Hummel in full capacity. Hummel, with back problems, came off the bench and played 28 minutes, after not practicing since December, but had only five points. JaJuan Johnson had 19 points and E’Twaun Moore had 16 for the Boilermakers, who finished 6-for-11 from three-point range and whose 46.8 field goal percentage was almost 20 points higher than Minnesota’s. “Less is more,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. “Probe the defense, move the ball, take a better shot. We made three more threes than they did and took eight fewer shots.” Meanwhile Minnesota, as Nolen said, “Just couldn’t buy a basket.” “We were cold, Purdue got out and pressured us and got us out of our offense,” Nolen said. “Their defense really took a toll on us and we really couldn’t get an offense going.”