INDIANAPOLIS – Daniel Oturu was so sick Tuesday night that he threw up at halftime, but you would never have known with the career night he put up against Butler.
The Gophers’ emerging sophomore center gave everything he had in producing 24 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, but he didn’t get much help in a 64-56 loss against the Bulldogs in front of 7,879 at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“He was very, very effective,” Pitino said of the 6-10 Woodbury native and former Cretin-Derham Hall star. “I thought our guys figured out to get him the ball, and he was demanding it. He was terrific.”
But the Gophers (1-2), who shot 6-for-23 from three-point range, couldn’t take advantage of Oturu’s breakout game, partly because of 18 turnovers. They also couldn’t stop Butler’s Kamar Baldwin, who shook off a rib injury to score 18 of his 27 points in the second half.
“[Baldwin] showed terrific toughness,” Pitino said. “Our guys fought, but we turned the ball over at an alarming rate.”
Coming off a disappointing 71-62 loss to Oklahoma in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Saturday, the Gophers have lost back-to-back nonconference games for the first time since 2015-16.
It’s still so early in the season, but there’s another road challenge Friday at Utah.
“I think we’re really talented. We all play really hard,” sophomore Jarvis Omersa said. “It’s just tying in those little things and being disciplined and smart. Stringing everything together.”
Despite shooting only 36% in the first half, the Gophers managed to take the lead three times in the second, including 39-38 after Gabe Kalscheur’s three-pointer with 10:31 left to play.
The crowd could feel the momentum swinging, but Oturu missed a dunk that could have extended the lead for Minnesota. Baldwin then had six points during an 8-0 run to pull Butler ahead.
Oturu’s three-point play cut it to 48-44 with six minutes left, but Baldwin answered again with six points to extend the lead to 10 points.
The Bulldogs had been dealing with injuries, playing with only six healthy and eligible players the first two games of the season. Baldwin had only played a combined 19 minutes before Tuesday, but looked like the All-Big East guard he was last season.
On the other side, Pitino still hasn’t figured out how to get anything close to replacing All-Big Ten performer Jordan Murphy alongside Oturu, who had 14 first-half points.
It was supposed to be junior Eric Curry, but he suffered another season-ending knee injury. Drexel transfer Alihan Demir was expected to be a major contributor, but he scored two points on 0-for-5 shooting in 21 minutes.
The Gophers needed a big game from transfers Marcus Carr and Payton Willis, who averaged a combined 33 points entering the game.
But Carr, who was plagued by foul trouble all night, finished with only nine points on 1-for-10 shooting with seven assists but four turnovers. Willis was the only other Minnesota player in double figures beside Oturu with 13 points, but he was 4-for-13 shooting.
The Gavitt Tipoff Games scheduled the game, pitting the Big Ten vs. Big East. But Pitino scheduled Oklahoma and Utah, knowing this tough stretch of three games against high-major opponents would tell him a lot about his team early.
“This is a young team with a lot of new faces,” Pitino said. “We’ll just learn. We’ll watch this thing, figure it out and get better. We’ve gotten challenged, which is a good thing. But we have to win some of these games now.”