Gophers hand No. 7 Wolverines their first loss

Liam Robbins led the Gophers to a dominant victory to avoid a three-game losing streak.

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Parker Johnson

Gophers Center Liam Robbins leaps for the ball at Williams Arena on Friday, Dec. 4. The Gophers went on to a 76-67 victory over the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

AJ Condon, Sports Reporter

The Gophers’ men’s basketball team stayed undefeated at home as it topped No. 7 Michigan to finish off a tough stretch of eight straight games against ranked Big Ten opponents. No. 23 Minnesota led the entire game while picking up their second win over a top-10 opponent. The Wolverines lost their first game of the season as Minnesota improved to 11-4 (4-4 Big Ten) with a 75-57 win.

After spending a lot of time on the bench in the first half with foul trouble, junior Liam Robbins made his presence felt in the second. He connected for not just the first Gopher three, but the first two. He also threw down an emphatic dunk on Austin Davis. That was just the start of his second half performance that electrified the team.

After a spotty first half of playing time, the Wolverines didn’t have much of an answer for Robbins. He finished with a game-high 22 points to go along with eight rebounds and two blocks. He was perfect from downtown hitting all three of his attempts.

In their last meeting, Robbins scored just five points on 2-of-9 shooting. Saturday was a much different story for Robbins and the entire Gopher team.

“I think we’re a very mentally tough team. Obviously we’ve struggled a little bit on the road, but our coaching staff gave us some great adjustments coming into this game. The big thing, after that game in Ann Arbor, we were all saying the same thing ‘we weren’t that team, that was not the team that was going to show up the next time they saw them,’” Robbins said.

Redshirt junior Marcus Carr carried on his rough stretch over the past four games into Saturday. With the news of senior Eli Brooks being out with an ankle injury, Carr was going to have an easier matchup compared to the last meeting. That wasn’t entirely the case.

Though his shooting percentage was subpar, Carr still found ways to score points as well as give his teammates opportunities to score. He finished the game with 17 points on 6-of-18 shooting but went 0-of-5 from deep. He dished out six assists as well as pulled in five rebounds.

The Gophers won almost every battle in the game, the biggest one being points off turnovers. They forced Michigan to turn the ball over 20 times in the game which they turned into 23 points. They also added 13 points on the fast break compared to just four for the Wolverines.

“We turned up the heat on the ball. We changed a lot of our coverages defensively, our guys trusted us. The story of the game was to turn over a team, an awesome offensive team, 20 times,” head coach Richard Pitino said. “Very, very proud of them, they keep responding.”

Junior Gabe Kalscheur was a big part of the defensive effort the Gophers put out Saturday. He’s been one of their best defenders and he held Franz Wagner to his lowest point total since mid-December. Wagner shot just 3-of-9 from the field including 0-of-4 from deep for just eight points.

“I just tried to make it as tough as possible for him to get to his right hand, and make every shot for him difficult to take,” Kalscheur said.

On the other end, Kalscheur added 10 points along with three boards and two assists, including this dime to a cutting Carr which Carr repaid right after.

First half

The Gophers were on the right side of a somewhat sloppy first half from both sides. The first possession of the game set the tone for the rest of the first half that was filled with offensive fouls and turnovers.

The Gophers team defense and aggressive mentality helped them go into half up seven, which was 12 at one point. Of the 11 turnovers the team forced, Minnesota turned it into 10 points.

Minnesota was playing good defense, but the shooting woes of opponents inside the Barn continued. Michigan shot 10-of-24 from the field including 2-of-9 from deep and just 1-of-4 from the line.

Neither team shot well in the first frame; in fact, the two teams combined to be 0-of-13 from deep at one point, before Michigan senior Isaiah Livers hit back-to-back threes for the Wolverines. Those threes were in the midst of a 9-0 run from Michigan that cut the Gophers lead to five. Though Minnesota didn’t score a field goal in the final five minutes, they were able to get to the line for their final six points of the half.

Redshirt senior Eric Curry gave the Gophers much needed help off the bench after Robbins ran into foul trouble early. He was tied for the team lead in points at half with six to go along with two steals, two assists and a board.

“Phenomenal. Absolutely terrific,” Pitino said of Curry’s first half minutes. “I can’t say enough about what he’s doing defensively, what he’s doing offensively. Totally bought into his role, totally bought into the team, he’s dealt with so much adversity, so many setbacks, and all he cares about is helping the team win.”

Robbins made many adjustments heading into Big Ten play in order to stay in the game more and out of foul trouble. He’d been doing a good job of that up until Saturday, when he found himself on the bench with two fouls just four minutes into the game. On the first possession, Robbins was called for an offensive foul and shortly after picked up his second in transition defense.

“Obviously, I don’t want to put myself in position with those two fouls, but Eric [Curry] is a fantastic player. Our team is very confident with Curry in there cause he’s a fantastic player and he’s played well for a long time. He just made all the right plays and really got us a good lead to start the game,” Robbins said.

In order to continue to use Robbins’ offensive talent, Pitino, to the best of his power, was subbing Robbins in on offensive possessions and bringing him back to the bench on defense. It worked out for the Gophers, as Robbins was able to go to the locker room with just two fouls.

Going forward

The Gophers finally get a break after eight straight ranked Big Ten opponents, but that doesn’t mean it gets easier. The Gophers travel to Nebraska to face the Cornhuskers on Wednesday.

“Nebraska is the next one up. Let’s enjoy tonight. Who knows, they’re on pause, let’s take a deep breath, see where that goes and keep going,” Pitino said.