Take this however you want:
The Gophers can hang with big teams. They just can’t seem to beat them.
Does that mean they’re on the verge of a being a good team, with a shot at actually doing this thing down the stretch?
Or does it mean they’ve fallen into a hole -- one they can’t seem to get out of --where they can’t harness the necessary intensity from the start, and they can’t get over the hump in the end.
Here’s the thing. The upcoming schedule can be looked at two ways:
1. As a curse. The final blow, if you will – a series of brutal hits that will effectively end the Gophers’ season in disappointment
2. As a blessing. It’s darn near impossible, but there is a chance on the table for a wilting Gophers team – that looks all but shunned from the big dance already -- to pull it together and make a major statement down the stretch.
Your reaction to those two possibilities depends on what you believe about this team, whether you think they’re almost there because they play close or whether you think they couldn’t be farther because good teams never have to try make comebacks.
And after tonight, I’d probably agree with the latter. The Gophers showed early and late they were able to hang with this team – at least in spurts – but it’s hard to win games after allowing a 20-0 run. Very hard.
And the road ahead only gets harder.
Some quick notes from tonight’s 78-68 loss to the Buckeyes:
· After tying the score at 12, Ohio State went on a 20-0 run that featured just 2 points by Jared Sullinger. The Gophers looked completely lost at that point, but finished a 12-1 run to finish the half. Unfortunately for them, that push – while it seemed like it should have turned the momentum -- still granted the Buckeyes a 12-point advantage at the half and when the Gophers came out in the second, they found a stingier Ohio State team waiting.
· The Gophers seem to get a big performance from a different bench player every night. Tonight, it was Oto Osenieks, who finished with 10 points and was key in the Gophers’ two real surges.
· Ralph Sampson III is in a slump, and it’s hurting the Gophers right now. Despite the team’s ability to have some surprise performers, they still need their leaders to step up. The senior finished with four points and two rebounds.
· Rodney Williams ended up with a strong game for the Gophers – getting hot late and finishing with 21 points and nine rebounds. But the junior started off really slowly, with just four points in the first half and none of the aggressiveness that he showed up with later.
· The Gophers were outdone in several categories, but perhaps one of the most significant was second-chance points. The Buckeyes had the 20-6 advantage there. Minnesota also shot just 65.2 percent from the free-throw line.
· Ohio State played a very deep bench tonight – something that’s pretty rare for the Buckeyes. Coach Thad Matta said he thought matchups were “favorable,” which is why he played 10 guys – including two bench players in double-digit minutes.
· Andre Hollins had a mixed performance in his first game back in the starting lineup. He finished with eight point and had some big shots – but he also had four turnovers and at one point threw an inbounds pass directly into Jared Sullinger’s gut, which was odd.
· The Gophers had four players finish with double digit points: Williams, Austin Hollins, Julian Welch and Osenieks. Joe Coleman had a fourth consecutive scoreless game.
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