Read my game story from Wednesday's 53-51 loss to Nebraska here.
When coach Tubby Smith walked into the postgame presser, all he could do was compliment the opponent.
The words for his team, it seemed, were running dry.
“I want to congratulate Nebraska,” Smith started. “They out-played us, out-worked us, out-coached us. They were very deserving of the win.”
As for the Gophers, the reasons for the loss weren’t hard to figure out: Minnesota made just 50 percent of their free throws, connected on just 38 percent from the field. Andre Hollins didn’t score for the first 13 minutes. Rodney Williams, Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman didn’t score at all.
“If we make a couple free throws here, get a stop here, it’s a different game,” said Trevor Mbakwe, the one bright spot for the team. “But you can’t go on the road and shoot 50 percent from the free throw line and have the lapses that we did at the end of the game and expect to win.”
Things felt off-kilter from the start when Smith threw out the same odd lineup that was meant originally simply as an ode to senior day against Penn State.
With Andre Ingram and Julian Welch starting with regular starters Mbakwe, Williams and Austin Hollins, the Gophers were put in a quick 13-9 hole and never led, even though they managed to tie it up with 2:15 to go.
Mbakwe said he wasn’t surprised at the lineup, considering that group had been practicing together for most of the week and was “doing pretty well.”
But Smith’s only reaction to questions regarding the lineup – which he said he flip-flopped back and forth about – was curt and blunt.
“We didn’t win, so it didn’t work,” he said. He later added “It’s not like we’ve got an offensive jauggernaut with whoever we put in the game. I mean, they’re struggling to score.”
The Gophers struggles certainly can’t be all – or even mostly – tied to that decision by Smith. But with changing roles, and players not adjusting well, it didn’t seem to help.
Did Minnesota get too high again, as Smith has warned his team has a penchant to?
“I hate to think that, but what else can you look at?” he questioned. “That’s part of it. It seems like every time we put together a good run … Coming off two wins you think we’re ready, we’ve got a lot to play for. But Nebraska has been playing well lately.”
Other notes from tonight’s 53-51 loss:
- For Ingram’s part, he certainly did his best to give the team a shot in the first half, scoring six points and playing a physical role in the paint. He and Elliott Eliason became the early go-to’s in a bizarre start to the game. At halftime, Eliason led with seven points. Neither scored again after the break.
- Smith was a man without a lot of words tonight. Asked by a Nebraska writer whether he thought the atmosphere of senior night and the last game the team would play in Bob Devaney Center, Smith just said “It must have because we were horrible.”
- Asked about the reasons he didn’t play Welch much leading up to the Penn State game, and then started him for two games, Smith scoffed: “He had a terrible year up until that point, up until senior day. Have you seen his stats?“
- Austin Hollins has been going through a shooting slump for quite some time now, but Smith reiterated that it wasn’t for a lack of hard work. The coach has long commended Hollins on his work ethic, and the shooting guard was about the only one that drew some praise in spite of his struggles. “Austin was unbelievable in practice,” Smith said. He was lighting it up, so I don’t know what’s gotten into him or what’s going on … that’s what happens when you get in a slump. He gets in the gym, he works as hard as anybody, works harder than anybody on the team. So he’s just having a tough time. But he’s a guy that we count on. When he’s having a tough time, we have a tough time. That’s been a big part of why we’ve struggled over the last few weeks. Because I don’t think he’s shot well since the Northwestern – it’s been forever. It’s been a long time.”
- Asked how Andre Hollins handled a second consecutive game as a reserve, Smith replied “He played 31 minutes. It doesn’t matter. You’ve got to ask him that. He didn’t look like he was there. He was off the other night, too – he’s been off for a while. He’s another guy that’s been struggling with his shot.”