They looked like they didn’t have a clue how to win. There was no poise. No urgency. No leadership. Not one player on the court who was willing to take control of a situation that was slipping through their fingers second by agonizing second.
In simplest terms, the Gophers gave away a game they had to win. They failed to execute in a doomsday five-minute stretch that should be used as an instructional video on how not to handle crunch time.
Lesson 1: Take care of the ball.
Lesson 2: Box out on free throws.
Lesson 3: Don’t foul a shooter a split second before the shot clock expires.
The final five minutes of a 58-55 loss to Iowa on Sunday served as an indictment of the Gophers as a team and Richard Pitino’s program in general. They’re not good enough or deep enough to sustain any momentum. Their NCAA tournament hopes are hanging by a thread after they unraveled at the end of their most important game of the season.
“I think there’s some devastation,” Pitino said of the mood in the locker room.
This felt like a death knell. The Gophers are 12-12 and sit 12th in the 14-team Big Ten after losing to a shorthanded Iowa team in front of a sellout crowd at Williams Arena. That ought to impress the tournament selection committee.
Maybe they can get hot the final six games to secure a tournament bid, but would anyone honestly predict that scenario after watching this implosion at home in the closest thing to a regular-season must-win?
The Gophers had to win this one. They put themselves in position with a rousing flurry to take a 55-47 lead with 5 ½ minutes left.
The Barn was rocking. The Gophers had momentum. A chance to improve their résumé was right in their palm.
“There was never any panic,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
Not in his huddle. The Gophers were a different story.
Iowa closed the game with an 11-0 run. The Gophers not only didn’t score in the final 5:25, but they also took only three shots, which included a desperation heave by Marcus Carr at the buzzer from the opposite end.
The Gophers needed 10 bad things to happen to lose and they checked all 10 boxes.
They committed five turnovers. They gave up an offensive rebound on a free throw that led to two points. They missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Iowa’s zone gave them fits.
Self-destruction happened throughout the second half. A casual approach to Iowa’s full-court trap resulted in two 10-second violations in a span of a minute. The Gophers had a lane violation on a missed free throw, a gift that allowed Iowa to pick up a free point.
Pitino said those miscues “added up.” Problem is, the Gophers’ margin for error is so slim in terms of talent and depth that they can’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes.
“It snowballed a little bit,” Pitino said.
Snowballed into an avalanche, and everyone deserves blame. Pitino and his players needed to be better. Give Iowa credit, too. The Gophers failed, but the Hawkeyes stood up and took it.
Basically, the outcome came down to this: One team demonstrated composure, one didn’t.
Too many flaws prevent the Gophers from being consistent. Pitino promoted this as a better shooting team, but they rank 245th nationally in three-point accuracy. They’re making only 28.5% of their three-point attempts in Big Ten games, dead last in the conference.
Daniel Oturu is one of college basketball’s premier players, but he needs more help. His supporting cast ebbs and flows, and bench contribution is nonexistent. The Gophers have three of the top five players in the Big Ten in minutes played. That’s a recruiting problem that falls squarely on Pitino’s shoulders.
The loss served as a microcosm of the season. No consistency. Not good enough. At the moment of truth, in a win they desperately needed, they wilted.