IOWA CITY – A disturbing narrative continued Monday night for the Gophers men’s basketball team in a humbling 72-52 loss to Iowa in its Big Ten opener.
In Year 7 under Richard Pitino, the program has lacked the depth and the experience to be consistent against high-major opponents, especially away from home.
The Gophers (4-5) are now 1-5 against Power Six schools this season, including 0-4 on the road. It doesn’t get any easier playing next at home, though, against No. 3 Ohio State on Sunday.
“We've got a lot of work to do,” Pitino said. “Fortunately, it’s still early. Fortunately, we've got a lot of practice ahead of us. We play Sunday, and then we have another week. We've just got to get better. It’s very evident.”
Daniel Oturu led the Gophers with 22 points and 12 rebounds, but he committed a career-high eight turnovers facing constant double- and triple-teams. Gophers guards didn’t give Iowa (7-3, 1-1) reason to leave the paint.
Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur combined for only two points on 1-for-20 shooting from the field, including 0-for-12 from three-point range. Payton Willis had eight points on 2-for-9 shooting.
The Hawkeyes got 44 combined points from Joe Wieskamp and Luke Garza. They also held the Gophers to 37% shooting, forced 15 turnovers and had a big edge in fast-break points at 18-4.
“We guarded ball screens a lot better,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I thought we closed better. We picked guys up in transition. Oturu is a handful, so you've got to make a decision when are you doubling.”
The Gophers were so focused on stopping Garza, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, that they weren’t prepared for Wieskamp, who scored 11 of Iowa’s first 13 points.
Garza, who had 44 points in Iowa’s Big Ten opener at Michigan, didn’t score until five minutes into Monday’s game. In the much anticipated matchup between top big men, Garza and Oturu both had double-doubles.
Senior Alihan Demir, who had eight of his 13 points in the first half, drilled his second three-pointer to give Minnesota a 20-19 lead. He followed with a block on Ryan Kriener, but the Gophers couldn’t capitalize. The Hawkeyes used a 7-0 run to propel them to a 37-29 halftime lead.
Wieskamp and Garza scored 11 of Iowa’s first 14 points in the second half as the Hawkeyes pulled ahead 51-34. A three-pointer from Oturu made it 55-45, but that was as close as the Gophers would get. Wieskamp made the play of the night by blocking a three-point attempt and finishing in transition with a swooping two-handed slam.
The Gophers, who played four sophomores and three freshmen, were too rattled to respond.
“There are stretches out there where we’re not connected offensively or defensively,” senior captain Michael Hurt said. “I think everyone knows we had a tough night shooting the ball, but that can’t discourage us or affect the way we play defense.”
The Gophers’ seven newcomers didn’t play well together against the toughest nonconference schedule during Pitino’s tenure — and those struggles carried over to league play.
“This is my first year in the Big Ten,” Demir said. “We’re all kind of new to this, but that’s not an excuse. We just have to play hard and tough all of the time, so we don’t have any excuses.”