IOWA CITY – Three days after the first signature victory of coach Richard Pitino’s tenure, the Gophers men’s basketball team had a chance to elevate its season to the next level.
Instead, the Gophers showed that while they have plenty of promise, they remain several steps behind the elite.
After building a 10-point lead late in the first half, the Gophers were quickly and systematically picked apart by Iowa’s high-flying offense and deep lineup. In the end, it was a blowout reminiscent of year’s collapse in the same building, this time with the No. 14 Hawkeyes strutting away with a 94-73 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It was a big dose of reality for the Gophers after beating No. 11 Ohio State on Thursday.
“We certainly were humbled today,” Pitino said. “And maybe we needed it. I thought I sensed a little bit that we were losing that underdog mentality that we’ve had all year, and maybe beating Ohio State, we started kind of feeling a little bit too much. … That last minute of the first half turned us from a very confident team to probably not a confident team.”
For 19 minutes, the Gophers (14-5, 3-3 Big Ten) certainly played with confidence. Andre Hollins had an 18-point first half, while Austin Hollins broke out of his recent slump to add nine points. Even with Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker both with two fouls for the final 6:55 of the half, the Gophers were able to keep rolling.
“We were getting steals, we were getting stops, we were rebounding the ball, getting out on the break, getting easy baskets in transition and that was how we got our lead,” Austin Hollins said. “I think we got away from that a little bit.”
But just when it looked like the Gophers were starting to peak, they fell apart just before halftime.
After a layup from Iowa’s Mike Gesell with 65 seconds to go, Zach McCabe swiped the ball away from Austin Hollins and fed Josh Oglesby for a three-pointer. Andre Hollins followed with another turnover that led to another Oglesby three in the closing seconds, pulling Iowa within 43-41 at halftime.
At the start of the second half, the Gophers had a chance to stop the bleeding, but Devyn Marble got hot and took his team with him. After he had only one point in the first half, the Iowa senior scored nine points in the first 2:05 to put the Hawkeyes up 52-46. Iowa (15-3, 4-1) didn’t look back.
“It crushed us,” Pitino said. “We just couldn’t get stops. We went man, we went zone. There was no defense I could devise to get stops today. We just were not wiling to do it.”
The Gophers were still within 73-67 with 7:25 to go, but they couldn’t slow down Iowa, especially with the Hawkeyes eliminating Andre Hollins, who scored only two points after halftime. Both Eliason and DeAndre Mathieu fouled out, and Iowa finished on a 21-6 run, getting to the line 15 times in the final 6:18.
Aaron White scored 18 points, making 10 of 11 free throws, while Oglesby finished with 17 and Marble 16.
“They didn’t do too much different except score the ball,” Andre Hollins said. “So we couldn’t get out in transition like we did. I scored a lot of my points coming off transition when their defense wasn’t set.”
The Gophers, who have led by double digits in every Big Ten game this season, figure to be an underdog again with No. 3 Wisconsin on tap Wednesday back in the Twin Cities.
“We’re not a perfect team,” said Austin Hollins, who finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and five steals. “And we have a lot of improvements to make.”