Looking back on his first seven years as Gophers men's basketball coach, Richard Pitino always wondered what would've happened if his team hadn't been hit by the injury bug at the wrong time.
This season, the Gophers avoided any serious injuries this season until recently. Starting guard and co-captain Gabe Kalscheur broke a finger on his right shooting hand Tuesday. Center Liam Robbins has struggled with a bad ankle sprain.
After years of having injuries derail the success of previous teams, Pitino hopes his players can regroup quickly during a critical final stretch to earn an NCAA tournament bid.
Even when the Gophers were healthy, though, they couldn't win on the road. That troubling theme continued Wednesday night in an 82-72 loss to Indiana.
"Really, really tough blow," Pitino said of Kalscheur's injury. "Especially on the defensive side of it. He guards the team's best player. Liam is not even close to himself. Two very important players. One is out and one is just hobbling."
The Gophers (13-9, 6-9 Big Ten) lost their eighth road game this season after leading 37-35 at halftime and having a six-point advantage early in the second half.
Minnesota freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. didn't look his age playing for the first time at Assembly Hall. The son of the former NBA and Kentucky standout finished with a career-high 19 points. An aggressive three-guard attack of Marcus Carr, Tre' Williams and Mashburn combined for 50 points, but scoring wasn't the issue. Indiana used an 18-2 run to take control late in the game.
The Hoosiers (12-9, 7-7) entered the night also fighting to stay off the NCAA tournament bubble.
Ali Durham, Trayce-Jackson Davis, and Jerome Hunter combined for 32 points in the second half for Indiana, which shot 58% from the field overall and 68% in the second half.
"Losing a guy like [Kalscheur] who was one of the top defenders in the Big Ten and the country, that hurts us," Williams said. "I felt like we did a good job overall. We just lost it down the stretch."
After leading 45-39 early in the second half, the Gophers were outscored 13-1 to fall behind by three points after back-to-back three-pointers from Hunter. Mashburn's three straight points helped him set a new career high with 17 points during a 9-4 rally as Minnesota regained the lead.
Late in the second half, the Gophers took their last lead, 55-53, on Brandon Johnson's dunk. They then went cold, scoring only one basket in the next five minutes. Armaan Franklin's two free throws made it 71-57 Indiana with 3:09 to play.
Jackson-Davis, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds, took advantage of the hobbled Robbins' lack of mobility. Robbins finished with just six points and two rebounds in 25 minutes.
In his first NCAA tournament season in 2017, Pitino watched starting guards Nate Mason and Akeem Springs suffer hip and Achilles' injuries to quash the hopes of one of the hottest teams in the country.
In 2017-18, Pitino returned nearly his entire team from a 24-win season, but future NBA guard Amir Coffey's season was cut short by a shoulder injury.
Two years ago, the Gophers lost their momentum when All-Big Ten big man Jordan Murphy's back injury sidelined him in a second-round NCAA loss.
With five regular-season games left this year, Pitino will need the Gophers to rally shorthanded to avoid another season of failing to reach their potential. A chance at a sixth win vs. a ranked opponent will be Saturday, hosting Illinois.
"We keep declaring teams are in and out before the season is over," Pitino said. "We've been dealt bad luck at a tough time, but I've very, very proud of our fight."
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