The second half was only 77 seconds old when coach Richard Pitino stormed onto the court, clapping in anger, as his dazed players headed to the bench for a timeout.

A lunchtime pickup game had broken out at Williams Arena, and the Gophers were getting run out of their own gym.

For all practical purposes, the contest was over at halftime, but it felt like a mercy rule should be instituted after Illinois opened the second half with an easy-peasy flurry of dunks and layups.

One team on the floor Saturday looked primed for a deep March postseason run. The other looked like it's hanging on the edge of a cliff with one hand as a once-promising season slips away in familiar fashion.

The No. 5 Illini wiped out the Gophers like a heavyweight fighting a welterweight in a 94-63 victory that spoke volumes about both teams.

Illinois is really good. Like Final Four-caliber good.

The Gophers are a hot mess.

The lack of competitiveness in the second half was embarrassing.

"It's on all of us, that one," Pitino said. "We've just got to learn from it and move on and see if we can get some continuity going."

Sorry, but the rest of this season feels doomed. Maybe the Gophers can rally and find a spark, but what evidence is there at present that something unexpected is right around the corner?

All we can go on is what we see with our eyes, and that picture looks awfully bleak right now.

At least we can stop obsessing over their winless road record for the moment. With Gabe Kalscheur sidelined because of a broken finger and Liam Robbins operating at maybe 50% because of an ankle injury, the Gophers are not exactly peaking at the right time.

They were so overmatched Saturday that it's hard to believe this same team has wins over Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa. It's not the same team, of course, without Kalscheur and with Robbins hobbling around the court in obvious pain.

Those paid to predict the NCAA field still view the Gophers as a tournament team. Maybe that will be proven true because the remaining schedule looks easier, but it's hard to feel an ounce of optimism given the state of things.

The Gophers have lost eight of their past 11 games. They are without their best defensive player, and their best post player is a shell of himself. They shoot horrendously from the perimeter and they haven't won on the road.

Other than that, everything is just swell.

It's not just the losses, but the manner in which they have lost. Nine of their 10 losses have been by double digits.

This stretch has sapped all enthusiasm that erupted after a blowout of Michigan in mid-January. This looked like a special Gophers team that day. And now? Fans are left to wonder if the team can sneak into the tournament as a lower seed.

The "Fire Pitino" chorus grows louder with each defeat. I've supported Pitino more than many because — contrary to what some people believe — there has been evidence of positive traction. It's impossible to ignore that he had his team prepared and locked in mentally and emotionally in wins over Michigan and Ohio State and in other performances.

This collapse, though, isn't something new. It's happened with previous teams, oftentimes because of a combination of injuries, suspensions and a lack of overall talent and roster depth. The program's inconsistency has become frustratingly predictable.

That reflects poorly on the head coach. Where is the progress?

Ultimately, the only opinion that matters on Pitino's future belongs to athletic director Mark Coyle, who watched Saturday in the seats behind the Gophers bench. Coyle stays in the background as a public face of the department so it's unlikely that he will comment on Pitino or anything related to his program before the season concludes.

The Gophers have time and a more manageable schedule to pull themselves together, but they looked defeated Saturday. Not just on the scoreboard but in body language and facial expressions. It was only a month ago when they walloped Michigan on the same court. That feels like a lifetime ago now.