Losing streak reaches seven as Indiana dominates Gophers
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The last time the Gophers men lost to Indiana on the basketball court, it was in early January at Williams Arena, and the home team was playing its first game without suspended center Reggie Lynch and injured guard Amir Coffey.
A month later, coach Richard Pitino’s team is 1-10 without Lynch, who isn’t going to be back this season while dealing with an appeal for being found responsible by a University of Minnesota panel for an alleged sexual assault in 2016.
It’s uncertain when or if Coffey will be back this season. The preseason All-Big Ten guard returned too soon from a right shoulder injury and hurt himself again after two games. And starting guard Dupree McBrayer can’t play through the pain in his lower left leg.
Include forward Eric Curry, out the entire season because of a knee injury, and the Gophers might be the only major conference team playing without four of its top six players this year. Without them, the Gophers dropped their seventh game in a row Friday night, this one an 80-56 loss to the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall.
“I’m remembering watching our first game against Indiana and looking at our record at 13-3 and 2-1 — and then all of a sudden the bottom falls out,” Pitino said. “I don’t think any college basketball team can sustain losing three starters and losing their first guy off the bench. It’s not an excuse. I think it’s just valid.”
The Gophers (14-13, 3-11 Big Ten) have losing streaks of five or more in each of the past four seasons under Pitino, including 14 in a row in 2015-16. Even when they won 24 games last season, they lost five in a row before turning the season around with eight consecutive victories to reach Pitino’s first NCAA tournament.
The losses piled up in previous seasons because of poor execution late in games, shooting spells and lack of chemistry. Those are issues that still plagued the Gophers this season when healthy. Mistakes now turn tight games into blowouts because the talent and depth just isn’t there.
Indiana (14-12, 7-7) is in rebuilding mode this season under first-year coach Archie Miller, but not many opponents could have won on the road Friday the way the Hoosiers shot the ball.
The Hoosiers shot 57 percent for the game, including 63 percent in the second half. Devonte Green was the spark early with 17 of his 19 points in the first half. Juwan Morgan had 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Nate Mason finished with 18 points and eight rebounds for the Gophers. Isaiah Washington added 14 points and Jordan Murphy had 12 for the Gophers, who lost their sixth Big Ten game by double digits this season.
After coming close to breaking through with close losses to Michigan and Nebraska, Murphy said the Gophers weren’t feeling sorry for themselves shorthanded. But McBrayer’s absence took away length defensively and a double-digit scorer for the Gophers, who shot just 33 percent from the field.
“We still have to play hard and guys have to stay emotionally invested,” Murphy said. “We just have to find ways to make plays. That’s the bottom line. We’re only playing seven guys, so it’s important to get our bodies rested, too.”
After trailing by double digits early in the first half Friday, the Gophers cut it to 27-24 after a three-pointer from Mason with 4½ minutes left. But Green ignited a 7-0 run that eventually kept Indiana in control with a 39-29 halftime advantage.
Any hope the Gophers had at a comeback was squashed to open the second half, when the Hoosiers outscored them 21-2 to take a 50-31 lead after Robert Johnson’s layup in transition at 16:29.
Washington started with Mason in the backcourt Friday for the first time in Big Ten play to replace McBrayer. The freshman point guard had his fourth consecutive double-figure scoring game, but he struggled to take care of the ball, making five of the team’s 14 turnovers.
Pitino joked he needs a “witch doctor” to at least get two of his starting guards to return before the season is over.
“I hope to get Amir and Dupree back at some point,” he said, “but I just don’t know.”