IOWA CITY – Last year when Jordan Murphy dominated on the glass against Iowa, the Gophers men’s basketball team was able to pull out a hard-fought victory that helped turn the season around.
Much like last season, Murphy made it a tough night for the Hawkeyes boxing him out Tuesday night. This time, though, his 21 points and 17 rebounds weren’t enough in a 94-80 Gophers loss in front of an announced 10,371 fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Gophers (14-10, 3-8 Big Ten), who lost their fourth game in a row, were down to only eight scholarship players after starting guard Amir Coffey (shoulder) and reserve forward Gaston Diedhiou (ankle) were sidelined by injuries.
Coach Richard Pitino tried not to use playing without two starters as an excuse. But the Gophers fell to 1-7 minus suspended Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Reggie Lynch.
Pitino lauded his team’s effort to battle back several times in the second half, behind Murphy’s inside presence and his bench scoring 34 points.
But it’s hard for the Gophers to see hope moving forward with injuries wearing them down and inconsistent defense standing in the way of any progress.
“We seemed to be playing about 25-28 good minutes and we just can’t break through — we get tired,” Pitino said. “We just wore down, but I’m proud of my guys. My guys were fighting.”
Murphy had 25 points and 19 rebounds last year in a 101-89 double-overtime victory against Iowa in Minneapolis.
That victory helped kick start an eight-game winning streak that secured Pitino’s first NCAA tournament berth and solidified the biggest turnaround in school history from eight to 24 wins.
The Gophers entered Tuesday hoping a victory could get them back on track, but they ran into an opponent that had a plethora of weapons offensively.
Jordan Bohannon led six Iowa players in double-figure scoring with 20 points and 10 assists. The Hawkeyes (12-12, 3-8) shot 55 percent from the floor, including 12-for-25 from three-point range, to beat the Gophers for the fifth time in six home games.
“They’re a really good offensive team,” Pitino said of the Hawkeyes, who shot 60 percent in the second half. “They’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts. They just keep bringing guys where we don’t have that luxury right now.”
Playing without one of their top perimeter scorers in Coffey, the Gophers needed a big night from their starting backcourt. But Dupree McBrayer, who finished with eight points on 2-for-8 shooting, was hobbled by a sore lower left leg he hurt in last week’s 77-69 loss to Northwestern. Nate Mason was held to only seven points on 2-for-13 shooting.
The Gophers cut a 13-point deficit to 55-51 when a three-pointer by Davonte Fitzgerald capped a 14-5 run early in the second half. They got within a couple baskets a few more times, including when Fitzgerald’s three sparked another rally late in the game. Isaiah Washington’s shot off the glass cut it to 70-66 with 6 minutes, 32 seconds to go, but that was as close as Minnesota could get late.
Fitzgerald had his best scoring performance with the Gophers with 16 points on 4-for-4 shooting from three-point range. Washington also broke out of a slump with a career-best 15 points and seven assists.
“Isaiah and Davonte did a really good job,” Murphy said. “I think [Michael Hurt] gave us some really good minutes. I think all three of them really showed us something. We really fought. We had a good 30 minutes, but the last 10 minutes we let it slip.”