With valuable seconds waning Saturday, the Gophers dribbled their way around the court, searching for an answer.
Finally Nate Mason got the ball and worked his way to the hoop. With his team down four and 40 seconds remaining, he was in prime position for a huge basket for the Gophers, who were staring at big opportunity after entering their game against Indiana on the precipice of disaster.
Then came the face-palm moment. Mason didn’t shoot, choosing to kick the ball out instead. Bad idea: Yogi Ferrell swiped the ball and laid it up, a blow the Gophers couldn’t overcome in a 70-63 loss to the Hoosiers at Williams Arena.
“[Mason] had that guy beat and he lost a little bit of confidence,” coach Richard Pitino said of the play. “He’s got to be our go-to-guy at the end of the game. We trust in him, we believe in him, so we’ll continue to stick with him.”
The Gophers (6-12, 0-6 Big Ten) looked tougher and much more energetic and resilient Saturday after losing both of their previous two games by 25 points, but they still ended up with their seventh consecutive loss and 10th in 11 games. The Gophers also saw freshman Ahmad Gilbert leave early in the second half because of a dislocated finger on his left hand. Gilbert will have surgery Sunday, said Pitino, who wasn’t immediately sure how long his two-game starter would be out.
The Gophers, who had beaten Indiana (15-3, 5-0) in six of its previous seven trips to the Twin Cities, were still within 64-60 with 1:45 to play after Jordan Murphy hit one of two free throws, but the Gophers couldn’t make the right plays down the stretch.
After leading all but 1:19 of the first half, the Gophers wound up tied with Indiana 34-34 at halftime, and they led 44-43 with 13:52 left. Then came one of the kinds of sequences that in so many other games have piled up to bury the Gophers.
Indiana’s Nick Zeisloft hit his fifth three-pointer of the game when Carlos Morris lost him on the perimeter. At the other end, Gophers freshman Kevin Dorsey flung an ill-advised pass that landed in the arms of the Hoosiers’ OG Anunoby, who returned the steal for a dunk on the other end.
“Whenever we come out and compete, we’re in games,” said Gophers senior Joey King, who went 4-for-5 on three-pointers and finished with 18 points. “It’s just a matter of a few turnovers here, a missed shot there. It’s a game of possessions, and you have to come out and execute on every single one. … We played hard 85 percent of the time today, and unfortunately that’s not enough.”
King appeared to grab a loose ball during a scrum on the floor with 1:18 to go and his team down four, but officials instead called a foul on Gophers walk-on Stephon Sharp. Indiana couldn’t score, but on the ensuing possession, the Gophers looked lost for direction before Mason’s blunder. Mason managed only a few words with reporters afterward, keeping his hooded head bowed all the while.
Ferrell (20 points, seven assists) had six points for Indiana in the last 3:24, including a pair of free throws that sealed it 18 seconds left.
“I thought we did a good job on [Ferrell], but seniors like him who have been in this league and been good in this league for a long time make plays,” Pitino said. “He did that and we did not.”