Tuesday was “ugly sweater” night at Williams Arena, but by the time the drooping crowd fled the Barn, the gaudy attire worn by the cheerleaders and mascot Goldy was looking more attractive than the main event.
The Gophers were trampled by South Dakota State 84-70, getting swept by a pair of Summit League South Dakota teams in the span of four days. Entering last weekend, Minnesota had not lost to either South Dakota or South Dakota State in 31 combined meetings. The Gophers lost to South Dakota 85-81 on Saturday.
The Gophers haven’t had four losses through nine games since the 2006-07 season, when they finished 9-22. Minnesota had not lost to two unranked nonconference opponents in back-to-back games at home since dropping a pair vs. Maryland and St. Mary’s (Calif.) in December of 1960.
The position had coach Richard Pitino considering big changes with Minnesota heading to Sioux Falls, S.D., to play Oklahoma State in a neutral-site game Saturday, although he didn’t say what moves would be made.
“You’ve got to be open to anything,” he said. “You really do. Obviously what we’re doing is not working, so I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and figure this thing out.”
Fresh off a loss to the Jackrabbits’ in-state rivals Saturday, a tumble that cost Minnesota its 47-game nonconference home winning streak, the Gophers looked no more prepared to face another motivated, small-school visitor, even one missing one of its best players.
The Gophers, in a 45-22 hole by halftime, managed to pull within 20 points for only 43 seconds during the first 12 minutes of the second half. With frustrations bubbling over, Pitino loudly protested the calls SDSU was getting, and was nabbed for a technical foul.
Minnesota finished the game with its two seniors, Joey King and Carlos Morris — who combined for only 10 points — rooted to the bench and a lineup of three freshmen (Dupree McBrayer, Kevin Dorsey and Jordan Murphy) and two sophomores (Nate Mason and Bakary Konate) on the floor.
“I was just playing the guys I thought were competing hard and giving us a chance to win,” Pitino said.
Senior guard Jake Bittle finished with a career-high 25 points for South Dakota State (8-1) and fellow senior Deondre Parks scored 21.
The rest of the numbers tell the story. South Dakota State, full of firepower despite point guard and second-leading scorer George Marshall patrolling the sidelines with a boot on his right foot, used two 10-0 runs to cruise to a 29-10 lead, and just kept piling on.
Minnesota went 3-for-19 on two-point shots in the first half, and made only six before the break while allowing the Jackrabbits to shoot 51.4 percent from the field and hit eight three-pointers.
“We came out dead again,” Mason said. “And that can’t happen.
Players pointed to things as simple as not being “cooperative” in practice, not communicating and not heeding the words of their coach as reasons for losing three of their past five games. Pitino said when a team isn’t prepared and allows 45 points by halftime, “that’s on the head coach.”
The word ‘‘ugly’’ was used early and often by fans on social media, but in reference not to the sweaters, but the action of those in maroon and gold jerseys.
“It’s early in the year; we’re obviously not going to be playing our best basketball,” King said. “But we can’t keep taking steps back. We’ve got to start taking steps forward.