Given the youth of her team, Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said she considers everything that happens in February — for good or ill — to be an important part of its learning curve. “We want to win games, no question,” she said. “But the things we’re seeing this month, with the growth and where we’re headed, there are many positives for the future.”
Some lessons, however, are more painful to absorb than others. Thursday, in a 67-54 loss to Purdue at Williams Arena, the Gophers’ final regular-season home game was spoiled by poor second-half shooting, weak inside play and an inability to put the brakes on the Boilermakers in the final 12 minutes. The Gophers (14-14, 5-10 Big Ten) trailed by three at halftime but scored only nine fourth-quarter points as they lost their second consecutive game.
With 3 minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the Gophers trailed 41-40. They were outscored 26-14 the rest of the way and shot 32 percent in the second half. Three Gophers scored in double figures — Carlie Wagner (17), Kenisha Bell (14) and Whitney Tinjum (11) — but centers Taiye Bello and Jessie Edwards made only two of 11 shots.
Ashley Morrissette scored a game-high 23 for Purdue (18-11, 9-6). The Boilermakers outrebounded the Gophers 43-37 and scored 19 points off 15 Gophers turnovers.
The loss locked the Gophers into the No. 10 seed in the Big Ten tournament. That gives them a first-round bye and a date against the No. 7 seed on March 2 in Indianapolis. The Gophers end the regular season Sunday at No. 2 Maryland.
“Handling the physicality around the basket was something we didn’t do well,” Stollings said. “[The Boilermakers] rebounded down the stretch a lot better than we did, and it ended up being a big difference-maker.
“Not being able to score at the basket really hurt us. We didn’t finish well, and offensively, that was a big difference in the game. We had great opportunities, but in the second half their physicality continued to bother us around the basket.”
That started quickly on the Gophers’ senior night, when Joanna Hedstrom, Allina Starr, Karley Barnes and Tinjum played their final regular-season home game. An aggressive Purdue defense frustrated them in the first quarter, as the Gophers made only four of 16 field-goal attempts and were badly outplayed in the post.
Bell and Wagner combined to score 23 of the Gophers’ 30 first-half points. Bell’s string of six in a row put the Gophers ahead 20-18, and Wagner’s jumper after a Purdue turnover made it 25-22, their largest lead of the half. But the Boilermakers got the final word, closing the half on an 11-5 tear to take a 33-30 halftime lead.
Cold shooting hurt the Gophers in the third, both from the field and at the free-throw line. They made only four field goals in the quarter and seven of 12 free throws, short-circuiting their shot at a rally. A 6-2 run by Purdue stretched its lead to 39-32, and the Gophers responded well, with a jumper by Wagner, a Bello layup and two free throws by Bell pulling them within 41-40.
But Edwards missed a pair of free throws that could have restored the lead — and Purdue reeled off a 9-1 run, extending the margin to 50-41. The Boilermakers outrebounded the Gophers 24-19 in the second half.