Gophers can't keep early lead in 86-77 loss to Iowa, fall to 3-3 in Big Ten

Head coach Ben Johnson of the Minnesota Golden Gophers yells in the first half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Williams Arena on January 15, 2024 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  ((Photo by David Berding/Getty Images))

The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team was looking for a bounce-back game against Iowa on Monday at Williams Arena after a 74-62 loss at Indiana last Friday.

The Gophers got out to a 14-3 lead on the Hawkeyes before everything that could go wrong did in an 86-77 loss in front of more than 8,300 fans at The Barn on Martin Luther King Day. Iowa answered with a 19-5 run and took a 39-32 lead at the half. The Gophers got as close as 67-62 in the second half before Iowa pulled away. 

After starting Big Ten play 3-1, Minnesota has now lost two straight and takes a 3-3 mark to Michigan State Thursday night. It’s the Gophers’ first home conference loss after wins over Nebraska and Maryland. It was Minnesota's first loss at Williams Arena since Nov. 17, when it had a 20-point lead on Missouri with 11 minutes to play, and lost 70-68.

"You’ve got to withstand a couple blows. We talk about in this league, it’s unforgiving. Teams are good across the board, you’re not going to walk in and just have your way with anybody," Gophers coach Ben Johnson said after the loss. "When your back is up against it or you have adversity, you’ve got to find a way to withstand a couple punches and be able to punch back."

The Gophers shot an abysmal 1-of-14 from the perimeter in the first half. They finished 5-of-29 (17.2 percent). Dawson Garcia, Braeden Carrington and Elijah Hawkins shot a combined 0-for-13. Garcia led the Gophers with 30 points, while Cam Christie added 12 and Joshua Ola-Joseph had 13. 

"We can’t take our foot off the gas. We had them down early, just gotta keep our foot on the gas and stay connected. Just want it more than the other team," Garcia said. "It’s a recipe that we just can’t stay down, in the Big Ten it’s every single night another team is coming at you. Just keeping that mindset of having killer confidence all the time."

Pharrel Payne, who had been Minnesota’s best player in recent games, had just three points and four rebounds in only 14 minutes. Johnson said he wasn’t himself physically. Payne was on the bench with ice on his back throughout the game.

"I don’t know if he was cramping, but he wasn’t 100 percent today. We’ve got to find a way to get him back feeling good, whatever it is that he’s going through right now. Obviously it hurts when he’s not out there," Johnson said.

Ben Krikke led the Hawkeyes with 23 points, and Josh Dix added 21 as Iowa shot nearly 54 percent from the field in the win. They also forced 12 Minnesota turnovers, and out-scored the Gophers 56-38 in the paint. The Gophers couldn’t make shots, were slow on defense and finished 16-of-24 at the free throw line. Iowa got its first road win of the season, its third straight at Williams Arena and now has win five straight in the series.

Minnesota falls to 12-5 with the loss, and now has to go to East Lansing Thursday night to face Tom Izzo.

"That’s what this league is, no one feels sorry for you. You gotta pick yourself up and come together as a group and make sure we stay connected. There’s going to be ebbs and flows all year, that’s part of it," Johnson said. "It’s a long journey, and you’ve got to be able to come back the next day and pick yourself up and figure it out."