Gophers men’s basketball drops fourth straight, tournament hopes diminish

Without their second and third-leading scorers, the Gophers played one of their worst games of the season.

Jamal+Mashburn+Jr.+walks+to+the+other+end+of+the+court+during+the+second+period+against+Illinois+at+Williams+Arena+on+Saturday%2C+Feb.+20.+Illinois+beat+the+Gophers+with+a+final+score+of+94-63.

Parker Johnson

Jamal Mashburn Jr. walks to the other end of the court during the second period against Illinois at Williams Arena on Saturday, Feb. 20. Illinois beat the Gophers with a final score of 94-63.

AJ Condon, Sports Reporter

The Gophers’ men’s basketball team was without juniors Gabe Kalscheur and Liam Robbins as the team hosted Northwestern. The Wildcats had lost 13 straight games coming into Thursday, while the Gophers were in the middle of a three-game losing streak.

In a must-win game, Minnesota (13-11) came out completely flat in the second half and handed Northwestern (7-14) just their fourth conference win. A once 14-point lead for Minnesota turned into an eight point loss as the Wildcats picked up a 67-59 win.

The majority of the second half was not favorable for either team, but Northwestern got the better end. Both teams made countless mistakes that allowed the other to stay in the game, until Northwestern put it out of reach.

After the Gophers had a six point lead to start the half, they went on a 1-of-9 stretch where Northwestern scored 10 straight points and took its first lead of the game.

“We had a great game plan starting the game, we were just executing that. In the second half, we just stopped playing hard, we missed in some crucial check outs,” sophomore Isaih Ihnen said. “We let them get comfortable – let them settle in.”

The Gophers were able to retake the lead a couple times but ultimately couldn’t put together a solid stretch.

The Gophers were fouling a lot, especially in the second half, and that led to Northwestern getting a lot of opportunities at the line. The Wildcats shot 22-of-27 from the line compared to just 9-of-10 from Minnesota.

“They made some shots, obviously we did not. I thought the second half, just sending them to the free throw line so much… they were getting some easy points at the free throw line, we were not,” Gophers’ head coach Richard Pitino said. “But Northwestern, give them credit, they made some big plays when they needed to.”

The Gophers looked out of sync in all aspects of the game as their deficit grew to as many as seven points. Minnesota couldn’t make any open threes, which Northwestern was gladly giving them. They committed 10 turnovers in the second half after just four in the first.

Redshirt junior Marcus Carr struggled for the majority of the game, but was able to finish with a team-high 21 points. He shot just 5-of-17 from the field including 3-of-11 from deep.

The second half Thursday was one of the worst halves of basketball Minnesota has played all year, and it’s had some bad halves.

Overall, Minnesota and Northwestern combined for 33 turnovers in what was a very sloppy game. Minnesota continued to try and shoot the deep ball, which hasn’t worked all season. The Gophers finished the game 4-of-27 from deep.

“I’d say we do settle, yeah, but we are capable of hitting the three, and if threes are given to us, then we just gotta be better at knocking them down. We gotta do a way better job at looking inside and getting to the paint,” Ihnen said.

There really wasn’t a bright spot in the second half outside of sophomore Sam Freeman who had five rebounds – two offensive – to go along with two points in seven minutes in the second half.

“[Freeman] settled in in the second half a little bit better. He’s coming along slowly but surely, obviously his role has changed, but circumstances are the circumstances and [the] next man has got to be up,” Pitino said.

It was truly a tale of two halves and Minnesota once again wasn’t able to put together a full 40 minute game.

The Gophers got off to a hot start and jumped out to a 17-3 lead, which was slowly vanquished by a 16-2 run from the Wildcats. Fortunately for Minnesota, Northwestern decided to continue to beat itself in the first half and committed 12 turnovers while making just eight shots from the field. The Gophers turned those 12 turnovers into 13 points on the other end.

The Wildcats’ sloppiness allowed freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. and company to go into the break with a six point lead. Mashburn had a very impressive first half, which was much needed with the voids in the usual starting lineup. He led all scorers with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and accounted for Minnesota’s lone three pointer.

Redshirt senior Brandon Johnson gave another jolt for Minnesota as he scored eight points and played very aggressively in the first half. Johnson was a lot quieter in the second half and scored just two points before he fouled out.

Carr had a quiet seven points in the first half that came in large part from the line where he went a perfect 5-of-5. He was still able to distribute the ball well and had three assists at the break. Though he had a tough night shooting from the field, he finished a perfect 8-of-8 from the line and dished out seven assists.

Carr was seeing a lot of double teams throughout the game, but the other players on the court weren’t doing enough to get open.

“I don’t believe it was much of a problem, it’s just an issue on our end. When teams try to double Marcus, or anything like that, he has to have someone to rotate towards him. We should have done a lot more than what we did tonight, especially helping Marcus with those double teams,” Johnson said.

Minnesota got going early, but ran into a road block midway through the half. The Gophers found themselves in the middle of two different scoring droughts as they saw their 14-point lead diminish. The Gophers were able to answer the Wildcats’ run with a quick 6-0 run of their own in 30 seconds.

The first half effort wasn’t enough as Minnesota dropped yet another game. Minnesota is back in action Feb. 27 as the Gophers try to pick up their first road win and keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive against Nebraska.

“We’re just gonna watch the film tomorrow and address where we can get better and keep moving forward. We’re always gonna stay positive, we’re always gonna stay together… [and] go prepare for a Nebraska team that’s tough,” Pitino said.

Correction: The previous headline for this story incorrectly stated the number of losses by the Gophers.