TALLAHASSEE, FLA. – With three starters on the bench in foul trouble, Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino mixed and matched lineups, going deep into his bench to stay in the game with Florida State on Monday night.
It worked for one half, as reserves helped the Gophers take a two-point halftime lead. But in the Gophers’ first road game of the season, they couldn’t handle Florida State’s size and athleticism, resulting in their first loss of the season, 75-67 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
“Coach [Leonard] Hamilton does a good job of forcing you to make plays, taking you out of your offense,” Pitino said. “From a defensive standpoint, we got a little bit desperate and got really spread out and beat off the bounce.”
The Gophers (6-1) shot an abysmal 32 percent. It was only 29.2 percent in the first half, when they also committed 10 of their 17 turnovers. But they made 15 free throws in the half, including eight off the bench, to take a 33-31 halftime lead.
But that lead disappeared once the teams came out of the break. Florida State (6-1), which shot only 35 percent in the first half and committed nine turnovers, went on a 21-6 run to start the second half. Dwayne Bacon, who had 14 of his 18 points after halftime, capped the run with a dunk that gave the Seminoles a 52-39 lead.
That lead got as large as 70-51 with five minutes to go. The Gophers got within seven on an Akeem Springs three-pointer with 18.9 seconds remaining, but they couldn’t get any closer.
“I think that’s a really good team; a very talented, big strong and tough [guy] team,” Pitino said. “They wear you down.”
Nate Mason and Springs had 11 points each to lead the Gophers. Freshman Amir Coffey, who averaged 20.7 points in his previous three games, was held to just seven points on 3-for-10 shooting after being limited because of foul trouble.
Coffey picked up his fourth foul with his team down 42-38 with 16:04 to go. From there, Florida State extended the margin to double digits with a 12-4 run. The Gophers cut it to nine with under 10 minutes left, only to get outscored 14-4 by scoring only one basket during a five-minute span.
“We kept fighting,” Mason said. “That was a plus to the game, but we also made a lot of mistakes.”
Starting center Reggie Lynch returned to the Gophers lineup after missing Friday’s victory over Southern Illinois because of an ankle injury. But Lynch and Jordan Murphy struggled to finish and defend the towering Seminoles frontcourt. They combined to score only 12 points on 2-for-12 shooting with five turnovers.
Murphy was held without a basket for the first time since the third game of his freshman season last year.
Florida State 6-11 freshman star Jonathan Isaac finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks, while 7-1, 304-pound center Michael Ojo and 7-4 Christ Koumadje combined for 19 points.
“It was kind of like the Purdue game, because in the Big Ten they have size like that,” said Bakary Konate, who had seven points and six rebounds off the bench. “Because they were long, it took us out of our game. We tried to fight through, but we couldn’t get the win.”
Pitino had five newcomers playing in their first road game, including freshmen Coffey and Eric Curry (five points, eight rebounds). The Gophers now have five days to regroup before their only other nonconference game away from Williams Arena — a neutral-site game Saturday night against Vanderbilt in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“As difficult as it is, it’s good for them,” Pitino said. “The Big Ten has some of the toughest road venues in the country. So it was good for them to feel it. When you play with a challenging team like this on the road, it’s going to be tough. Our guys have to learn and grow from it.”