ORLANDO -- Well, the optimism of a little over 4 hours ago has been replaced by a combination of bad luck and harsh reality when it comes to the Gophers men's basketball team. Once again, Minnesota gave up a barrage of perimeter shots in the first half here in Orlando, and once again it led to a halftime deficit -- this time 37-28 against Dayton in the Old Spice Classic title game. On Thursday, the Gophers trailed DePaul by 10 thanks to poor three-point defense. It was the same story Friday against Indiana State. Both times, though, Minnesota adjusted and made big plays down the stretch to pull out comeback victories.
Against Dayton, however, there was no such luck. The Flyers kept coming in waves. And to compound things, senior forward Trevor Mbakwe went down with a knee injury early in the second half and did not return. He will have an MRI -- scheduled for Monday, per a Gophers spokesman -- to determine the extent of the damage. And while we should all be cautioned to avoid jumping to conclusions, Mbakwe's body language showed obvious pain and his in-game tweet after leaving the bench with a huge ice pack on his knee also spoke volumes: "Lord please get me through this." As Tubby Smith said, "It didn't look good."
But Smith also said, "We'll have to see. Hopefully, it's nothing serious." Mbakwe also tweeted: "Thanks everyone for your prayers. I really appreciate it the support. Tough times don't last but tough ppl do” and “Minor setback for a MAJOR comeback.” Knees are tricky things. So again, let's not assume the worst until the results of the MRI are in.
Even if the Mbakwe news is good, however, Sunday's game exposed Minnesota's defensive flaws over a full 40 minutes. The Gophers hadn't seen a guard like Kevin Dillard yet, and he gave them a taste of what they'll get in the Big Ten. It wasn't pleasant to swallow, as Dillard -- the tournament MVP -- carved them up for 19 points, 10 assists and seven steals. When he wasn't driving and scoring, Dillard was almost flawlessly setting up teammates on the perimeter. Dayton made 12 of 27 three-pointers. Afterward, Smith acknowledged, "We haven't defended the three very well all year long." Indeed. The Gophers were decent at shooting them (7 of 18 Sunday) but have now allowed 50 made threes on the season.
In any event, we'll see how fast Minnesota can regroup and what the news is on Mbakwe. The Gophers are home against Virginia Tech on Wednesday and USC on Saturday. For now, the difference between 6-0 and 6-1 feels pretty significant.