If Reggie Lynch was in the building somewhere at Williams Arena on Saturday, there’s no doubt someone would have spotted the 6-foot-10, 260-pound center.
But last year’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year won’t be at any Gophers games any time soon. Not while he’s suspended indefinitely from playing after a University of Minnesota finding earlier this week that he is responsible for an alleged sexual assault — the second he has been investigated for in the past 18 months.
Figuring out how he’s going to replace Lynch is one huge problem, but coach Richard Pitino also is facing bigger questions. A national TV audience watched Saturday as analyst Dan Dakich, covering the Gophers-Indiana game for ESPN, questioned Minnesota’s decision not to block Lynch from playing earlier.
Dakich didn’t buy Pitino’s response Friday that he and Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle were sticking to school protocol. “I would’ve kicked him off the team,” Dakich said.
When it came to the game, the Gophers were obviously missing both Lynch and injured starting guard Amir Coffey, but they still had a chance to pull out a victory late. Instead, the Hoosiers outplayed them down the stretch in what ended up as an emotional 75-71 loss in front of an announced 12,956 at the Barn.
“We got to get them to believe and trust each other,” Pitino said. “As well as continue to develop these guys … we’re going to have to tinker with things when you have issues like [missing players].”
Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer and Jordan Murphy combined for 58 points, including Mason’s 22 points and nine assists. But the Gophers (13-4, 2-2 Big Ten) saw their five-game winning streak end.
Indiana’s Robert Johnson scored 28 points with seven rebounds and seven assists. He hit two free throws with 21.6 seconds left to give the Hoosiers (9-7, 2-2) a three-point lead.
Murphy tied former Wake Forest star Tim Duncan’s double-double streak to start the season, recording his 17th in as many games when he snatched a rebound with nine seconds left. The junior forward finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds. However, Murphy also missed the front end of a one-and-one with the Gophers trailing 72-71 with 25.7 seconds left. Murphy had been 7-for-7 at the free-throw line up to that point.
Murphy and Mason also both missed three-pointers on the Gophers’ second-to-last possession that would have tied the score. Mason missed his last four shots in the last 2:08, all with his team trailing.
After the game, though, the first question for players was about how they have handled Lynch’s suspension.
“Just focused on the guys in the locker room,” said McBrayer, who had 18 points. “Playing with what we got. Fight as a team.”
Trying to replace Lynch’s 10 points, eight rebounds and Big Ten-best four blocks per game in the starting lineup was Bakary Konate, who finished with only two points and four rebounds in 27 minutes. Michael Hurt had zero points and four rebounds starting for Coffey, who averages 14 points per game. Pitino even tried small-ball with Murphy at center, but the Gophers lost the rebounding battle 45-35, which included giving up 17 offensive rebounds.
Indiana led 57-53 with 10 minutes left when Mason found Konate for a dunk, then followed up with five points of his own for a 7-0 run to give Minnesota back the lead.
Murphy’s tip basket and a jumper from McBrayer ignited Gophers faithful and gave put their team ahead 67-62 with 7:52 left, but Indiana responded with a 10-3 run, sparked by a steal off an inbounds pass from Hurt that led to a three-point play for Johnson.
Juwan Morgan, who finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds for Indiana, hit one of two free throws to make it 72-70 with 58 seconds left. Before Murphy’s miss, McBrayer squandered a chance to tie it by going 1-for-2 at the foul line.
Coffey injured his right shoulder Wednesday vs. Illinois, and Pitino said he won’t return any time soon. Lynch is appealing his suspension. Without them, the Gophers will continue to search for answers on the court, while trying to avoid distraction off it.