Evanston, Ill. – While Kevin Dorsey’s desperation heave as the shot clock expired was swatted away, Joey King sat on the bench with a towel over his face and his arms in the air.
This was late in Thursday night’s game, and the totality of the scene encompassed the demoralized Gophers.
Coach Richard Pitino felt a rematch with Northwestern would provide a new result after getting drubbed at home last month. It didn’t, as the Gophers never found a rhythm and wasted early opportunities, falling 82-58 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
“We had been playing well,” Pitino said. “We had been fighting. Tonight we didn’t. We took a step back today.”
The Gophers (6-17, 0-11 Big Ten) have dropped 11 consecutive conference games, five short of the program record set in 1987. They are off to their worst start in Big Ten play since the 1922-23 team also started 0-11. It’s the first time the Gophers have been swept by Northwestern since 2006, and combined with a 25-point loss at Williams Arena last month, it’s their worst back-to-back losses to the Wildcats in series history.
The Gophers defense was exploited immediately. Northwestern (16-8, 4-7) scored in the paint on its first possession, then knocked down its next five three-point attempts while the Gophers zone sagged behind the arc.
If Pitino believed his players’ confidence was shaken after last month’s home loss to the Wildcats, an instant 16-5 run by Northwestern to open Thursday certainly wasn’t going to help get it back.
“We had looks, but couldn’t make them,” Pitino said. “Just one of those nights that we let it deflate us on the defensive end.”
His players used a simpler phrase to describe the collapse: disconnected.
“You can say that without a doubt,” said forward Jordan Murphy, who led the Gophers with 14 points. “We didn’t play with enough energy. It’s back to the drawing board.”
Mostly, the Gophers got caught leaving the perimeter, where the Wildcats knocked down 12 threes, and failed to track Bryant McIntosh (20 points, six rebounds). The Gophers lost sight of him twice in less than two minutes, allowing him to wait patiently in the corner before knocking down a three.
“They let me have a standstill shot that I don’t normally get,” McIntosh said.
Despite all their miscues, the Gophers twice cut the deficit to six points in the first half. The second time, they turned the ball over twice, sparking the Wildcats to an 8-0 run that left them up 37-23 at the break.
“We kind of hesitated,” Murphy said. “We had a couple runs that we could’ve made.”
And with that the rout was on. The Gophers never regrouped, turning the ball over twice in the first minute after the break. Both of which led to Northwestern scores.
King said they tried to play for pride at the end. As for how the Gophers let it get so bad in the beginning, there are still those confidence questions remaining.
“I don’t know,” Murphy said. “I just don’t think we came out ready to play. We felt sorry for ourselves.”