SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Late in the first half Saturday, the jumbo videoboard showed an Oklahoma fan dressed in a Sooners red suit as he smiled and waved to the cameras.
The Minnesota-heavy crowd didn’t like that too much. They were even less thrilled to see the Gophers men’s basketball team squander an eight-point second-half lead in a 71-62 loss to Oklahoma in front of an announced 3,445 at the Sanford Pentagon.
The Gophers (1-1) got 46 points combined from Payton Willis, Marcus Carr and Daniel Oturu, but they couldn’t sustain the defensive effort that put them in control after the first 25 minutes.
After being held to 24% shooting in the first half, Oklahoma (2-0) used a 23-4 run to pull away, shooting 62% from the floor in the second half. Brady Manek and Kristian Doolittle combined for 27 points and 20 rebounds for the Sooners.
“You’ve got to play great defense, and I thought we didn’t do that in the second part of the second half,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “We started fouling a little bit. And I thought we let our offense affect our energy defensively.”
It was only the second game of the season, but the Gophers were facing a tough stretch with three games in a row vs. high-major opponents away from home, including games at Butler and Utah next week.
After hitting 13 three-pointers in a season-opening victory over Cleveland State, the Gophers shot only 8-for-32 from long range Saturday.
“We have great shooters on the team, but like today as you saw, they’re not all going to go in,” said Carr, who had a team-high 16 points and 10 rebounds. “We have to collectively do a better job getting the ball to the rim. [Oturu] needs more post touches in there.”
Willis had 12 of his 15 points in the first half on 4-for-9 shooting from three-point range. He scored nine points during a 17-7 run that gave the Gophers a 32-26 halftime lead.
In the second half, Carr scored on a twisting layup while getting fouled. After falling out of bounds, the transfer from Pitt hopped up and tried to pump up the fans behind the basket.
Carr missed the free throw, but he followed up his miss by diving after a loose ball in front of his bench. The scrappiness of Carr was contagious as the Gophers led 51-43 after a three-point play from Willis at the 12-minute mark.
The Gophers were on the verge of a double-digit lead, but missed free throws and defensive miscues cost them the momentum. Oklahoma took the lead with five points from Alondes Williams to cap a 14-2 run.
Oturu’s dunk cut it to a two-point deficit with 6:08 to play, but the Sooners followed with a 9-0 run to put the game away.
With the Gophers’ best defender, Gabe Kalscheur, in foul trouble for most of the night, Pitino was forced to go to his inexperienced bench. The Gophers were also outscored 19-4 off the bench.
“I feel like we responded well in the locker room,” Willis said. “Everybody was upbeat. Everybody is taking it as a learning lesson, and nobody was negative about it. We’re just going to get back to work [Monday] and get ready for Butler.”