The Gophers needed a win to boost them back on track after a disheartening loss at Nebraska.
Instead, they crumbled to their first two-game losing streak of the Big Ten schedule, unable to make good on a final possession with 11 seconds left.
Afterward, the locker room resembled a defeated battlefield, with the shuffle of the media, and the quiet sobs of Mo Walker -- from underneath the jersey pulled tightly over his face -- the only things stirring up the silence.
Even Andre Hollins' contagious smile was absent, the injured guard leaving the locker room before reporters entered.
Oh, how the Gophers miss him more than ever.
Despite a stretch that appeared favorable, Minnesota is discovering that replacing Hollins is no easy task. Without him, the Gophers have stumbled through a pair of games following a momentous win over Wisconsin -- and have truly missed both his offensive and defensive presence.
"We need him back," coach Richard Pitino said. "He's one of the better guards in the league. It's silly for us to think that it's going to be easy to replace a guy who scored 1,000 points. And could be one of the all-time leading scorers in school history. We need him back, he's extremely important to us."
Without him, the Gophers played probably their worst game of the year, allowing Northwestern's offense -- which ranks at the bottom of the Big Ten and 316th in the nation -- to hit five three-pointers in the first nine minutes and convert 46.2 percent of their shots from that range in the first half overall. They weren't able to hit their free throws, going 5-for-9 from the line (and there were very few calls in this one anyway) or execute down the stretch. DeAndre Mathieu's layup attempt in the Gophers' final possession couldn't find net, and Mo Walker's rebound attempt sailed over the basket.
*What a difference in officiating from the Nebraska game, which featured 58 combined trips to the line. Saturday, the refs really let them play (occasionally at the expense of fair calls) and sent the two teams to the line a combined 16 times. Pitino and the players refused, smartly, to comment on the officiating after the game, but Mathieu did say "If I really gave what I thought, I'd be in trouble." It wasn't outrageous, but he did appear to get bumped on his final drive to the basket.
*Malik Smith couldn't miss at Nebraska. On Saturday, that hot-shooting spark went cold, with the senior going 1-for-9 from three-point range. Situations like that really speak to Andre Hollins' worth, simply as another scoring option on the floor. The best part about this team is its balance.
*Both Mo Walker and Austin Hollins had big contributions, the former in the first half, when he scored 12 points and instigated a 10-0 run, and the latter in the second half, scoring nine points and dunking to ignite the Barn and tie the score with 3:54 to go.
*Pitino said he is hopeful for but "highly doubts" Andre Hollins will be available at Purdue when the Gophers play on Wednesday. The junior (severe ankle sprain) participated in warm-ups before the game, and appeared to be moving well, but still limped a bit. It's smart of the staff to take it slow.