On top of the mental strain of playing the season during a pandemic, the Gophers men's basketball team resembled a group Wednesday night that had dealt with just too much adversity to bear.
Losses piled up. Frustration piled up. Injuries piled up.
The Gophers watched their realistic NCAA tournament hopes fade last month. Now their head coach's job status weighed on the program as well.
Richard Pitino normally wouldn't hesitate to tear into his players for mistakes, but Minnesota's embattled coach looked sympathetic on the sidelines in a sixth straight loss Wednesday, 84-65, against the Nittany Lions at Bryce Jordan Center.
"We're down three starters and our top guard off the bench is hobbled," Pitino said. "I don't know if that's an excuse, but that's significant to the team. They're still battling. They're still coachable."
Marcus Carr had a game-high 22 points, but he shot 4-for-13. The Gophers (13-13, 6-13 in the Big Ten) finished winless on the road (0-10) in league play for first time since 2015-16.
Pitino emphasized earlier this week that U athletic director Mark Coyle wouldn't decide his future with the program until after the season. He hoped that would allow his players to focus on building momentum going into the Big Ten tournament next week.
The Gophers don't look physically and mentally capable of competing for an entire 40 minutes, especially with what seems like half their rotation banged up.
"They're giving us what they got," Pitino said. "I don't think any team could lose three starters and be as good."
Liam Robbins missed his third straight game with a sprained ankle. Gabe Kalscheur was out for the fourth game in a row with a broken finger. Other key players were limping around the court Wednesday, including Brandon Johnson (ankle) and Both Gach (foot).
Johnson, who had scored double figures seven times in 10 games, played just nine minutes after reinjuring his ankle in practice this week.
"[Pitino] always tells us this is an unforgiving league and no one cares," said sophomore Tre Williams, who had a career-high 17 points. "At the end of the day you got to find a way to get a win. Guys need to step up. Everyone on this team is a high-major player."
The Gophers opened the game with an impressive defensive effort. Scoring was hard to come by, though, with Carr unable to carry the offense like he did with a career-high 41 points in last week's 78-74 loss at Nebraska.
The Nittany Lions (9-13, 6-12) overpowered the Gophers on the boards 48-33, but ending the first half on a 16-2 run allowed them to pull away with a 46-28 halftime lead. Myreon Jones finished with 17 points to lead five players in double figures.
One sequence to end the first half summed up another night to forget for the Gophers.
With just under five seconds left in the first half, Carr got the ball stolen after he raced up the floor off a missed free throw. Myles Dread barely took a step before drilling a buzzer-beating three-pointer for an 18-point Nittany Lions lead.
In the second half, Penn State extended its lead to 54-30 on Jamari Wheeler's three-pointer with 17:16 to play.
The Gophers would outscore the Nittany Lions 33-20 to cut it to 74-63 on Isaiah Ihnen's two free throws, but they couldn't sustain the comeback effort.
When Pitino was at full strength his team beat five ranked opponents earlier this season. But the injury-plagued Gophers enter Saturday's home finale vs. Rutgers in 12th place after losing to Big Ten bottom-feeders Northwestern, Nebraska and Penn State in consecutive games.
"We were hot and thought we could make a run to the [NCAA] tournament," said Ihnen, who had 12 points. "Normally when you get hit with injuries other guys have to step up, but we weren't able to do it in time. That's why we're on this losing streak."
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.