MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The Gopher basketball team knows first-hand what can happen to a team’s confidence when it’s not making shots. They've had to fight through shooting struggles in several games this year.
With a chance to solidify a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Gophers had one of their worst shooting performances of the season Thursday night in a 69-60 loss to Michigan at Williams Arena.
The Wolverines came to Minneapolis the No. 7-ranked team in the country. It served as a chance for Minnesota to get a quality win to boost its NCAA resume. Instead, the Gophers started the game just 3-of-15 from the field and made only eight field goals in the first 20 minutes.
The Gophers only trailed 28-18 at the half despite shooting 22 percent from the field. They didn’t hit a three-pointer until Gabe Kalscheur got one to go with 8:10 left in regulation. They finished the night 1-of-10 from three-point range.
“I thought we were ready to roll and then I just thought we got cold. It’s hard when that ball isn’t going in the basket. It deflates you, and then you’ve got to get tougher and you’ve got to dig in,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “You miss nine free throws and you can’t make a 3. You’ve just got to find a way to scratch and claw.”
Amir Coffey went 0-for-10 from the field in the first half and finished with just six points on 2-of-15 shooting for the game. Coffey was aggressive in getting into the lane, but took highly-contested shots in the hopes of getting a whistle, which didn't happen.
Coffey, Dupree McBrayer and Kalscheur combined to shoot 0-14 in the first half.
“I think it was everybody, it wasn’t just Amir. They were losing confidence in their outside shot, so the next thing they were trying to do is duck their head,” Pitino said. “Very similar to our other games offensively when we’ve gone cold.”
It’s a stark difference from four days ago, when the Gophers shot 48 percent from the field and 12-of-22 from three-point range in an 84-63 win over Indiana.
Coffey, McBrayer and Kalscheur finished Thursday a combined 6-of-27 from the field, including 1-of-9 from the perimeter.
“Same place, same players. It’s just a matter of getting back in the gym and getting confident,” Pitino said.
Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu were the lone bright spots for the Gophers. Both recorded double-doubles and combined for 36 points and 27 rebounds. Oturu was the only spark in the first half with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Gophers shot 37 percent from the field in the loss. They shot 32 percent in the loss to Wisconsin. The misses turned into easy looks for the Wolverines on the defensive end of the floor.
The Gophers showed a pulse and got as close as 53-40 in the second half after a McBrayer steal and dunk with eight minutes remaining. But the Wolverines got key answers from either Jordan Poole, John Teske or Iggy Brazdeikis to pull away. The three combined to shoot 11-of-16 in the second half, including 6-of-10 from three-point range.
Minnesota dropped to 7-9 in Big Ten play with the loss. Its next three games are at Rutgers Sunday, at Northwestern and the home finale against Purdue. The Scarlet Knights and Wildcats are both teams at the bottom of the Big Ten standings, but they won’t be looked over.
“We can’t really take any game for granted. We can’t underestimate any opponent, we can’t afford to,” Murphy said. “We need to play them how we would play any other team and treat them the same.”
The Gophers, who have now lost five of their past six games, need to play each of their last four games with desperation. Or they might not be heading to the NCAA Tournament.