Three suspended guards in white University of Minnesota warmup shirts could only sit and watch as Wisconsin junior Bronson Koenig caught a pass in the corner — just beyond their reach from the bench — and let it fly.
The three-pointer was the Badgers’ first basket of the night in an eventual 62-49 victory on Wednesday night at Williams Arena, but the next 39-plus minutes didn’t deviate much from that tone: Wisconsin rolling, shorthanded Minnesota reeling.
With suspended guards Kevin Dorsey, Dupree McBrayer and floor general Nate Mason in full spectator mode — as they will be the rest of the season, following Tuesday’s decision by coach Richard Pitino — Minnesota was even more overmatched than usual against Wisconsin, taking their fifth consecutive loss to the border rival.
“[It was] difficult,” Pitino said. “You’ve got your rival in town and you want everybody juiced up. And you just didn’t have that feel.”
Minnesota has dropped two in a row after snapping a historically bad 14-game losing streak with back-to-back wins for their first league victories of the year.
Joey King, the only senior left on the Gophers roster after Carlos Morris was dismissed from the team in February, received standing ovations in senior night ceremonies before the game and when he was pulled with just over one minute remaining. The maroon and gold ticket-buyers didn’t have much else to cheer about.
“Obviously in my situation it was the wrong time to have all this go down,” a tearful King said afterward. “But that’s life and you move on. … We did the best we could with the hand we were dealt.”
The NCAA tournament-bound Badgers jumped out to a 14-8 lead, answering a couple buckets from King with more three-pointers and low-post scores than Minnesota’s defense could handle. Wisconsin led 40-24 at halftime as the Gophers authored their own destiny with a litany of air balls and turnovers.
Minnesota cut a 21-point deficit to as little as 11 at 52-41 with 7:57 left. But after Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ missed one of two from the line, Gophers freshman Ahmad Gilbert followed with two misses from the stripe, and Vitto Brown responded with another triple for the Badgers to push their lead to 56-41 with 5:56 to play.
Wisconsin, managing only 34.8 percent of its shots in the second half after converting 55.2 percent in the first half, wouldn’t allow its advantage to dip below 13 the rest of the way. Freshman walk-on Stephon Sharp (16 points), starting at point guard for the second game, again led Minnesota’s efforts, while sophomore center Bakary Konate collected 14 rebounds.
Mason, McBrayer and Dorsey were issued a season-long suspension less than 48 hours after reports surfaced of a sex video appearing on the social media accounts of Dorsey, who was identified in the video by some of those who saw it online. The three players spent the game watching the action, hands folded at their knees. Mason, their one-time leader, shouted encouragement.
Meanwhile, their on-court counterparts were struggling through obvious chemistry shortcomings on a team Pitino admitted has had to “scrap” most of its offense.
“It’s still a work in progress,” he said. “You go about seven, eight months doing one thing and then you’ve got to change it all — it’s going to take a little time.”