MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team is in a bit of a rut after getting off to a 9-2 start, and it’s largely due to their inability to take their home energy on the road.
The Gophers (11-6, 4-6) got off to a promising start at Purdue last Saturday, leading 35-30 at the half and making six of their first eight shots from the perimeter. But the Boilermakers imposed their will in the second half, out-rebounding Minnesota 44-27 for the game and outscoring the Gophers 51-27 in the second half in an 81-62 win.
The Gophers are 0-5 away from Williams Arena this season, and fell out of the Associated Press top 25 on Monday for the first time since Dec. 28, after they beat Iowa on Christmas Day. Minnesota goes as All-Big Ten guard Marcus Carr goes. He’s their leading scorer, but at Purdue he scored a season-low six points on just 2-of-13 shooting. The Boilermakers smothered him defensively, and wouldn’t let Carr beat them.
Richard Pitino on Wednesday compared it to when Vikings’ rookie receiver Justin Jefferson gets double-teamed. The ball has to go elsewhere.
"Teams are loading up on him, he can go get 10 assists. If they’re going to decide to do that, it’s a team game. Make them pay. If they’re going to put two or three guys committed to Marcus, make them pay with other guys," Pitino said.
Some of Minnesota’s offensive numbers are troubling. They rank 300th in the country in field goal percentage, and 300th in three-point percentage. They’re 276th in rebounding margin, and 236th in scoring defense.
The Gophers have to figure out their struggles soon. They head to Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana in the next two weeks. The Scarlet Knights have recovered from a five-game losing streak to win three straight, and they’re always tough in their home gym, fans or no fans.
Grad transfer forward Brandon Johnson, who scored 11 points in 33 minutes at Purdue, says Minnesota’s confidence has not wavered in losing two straight and four of its past five.
"I don’t believe the confidence level on our team has dropped. I just think we had a rough patch in the road," Johnson said.
In five road games, the Gophers are losing by an average of nearly 20 points. The final margin Saturday was 19 points after getting out-scored by 24 in the second half. Minnesota needs to find a way to take its production and energy at Williams Arena with them on the road.
"I think it’s all up to us and the energy that we bring. Obviously there’s a sense and a level of comfort when you’re at home, you’re at your own gym shooting on your own rims. We’ve just got to carry over that same energy we have at home and bring it on the road," guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. said.
The Gophers are at the halfway point of their Big Ten schedule, and after three games in the last three weeks, the intensity ramps back up Thursday night. Their game at Rutgers starts a stretch of four games in 10 days. Pitino says their mindset doesn’t change, their focus is figuring out a way to get their first road win of the season.
"In our league, when you have 90 percent of your league that believes they can go to an NCAA Tournament, every game is going to be a war," Pitino said. "The good part is every game is a unique opportunity to go get a win. Day to day here, and it’s always been that way."
Get a win Thursday, and they can also avoid NCAA Tournament bubble talk for the first time all season.