Slow Starts Continue to Plague Gophers

Minnesota opened league play by trailing at halftime in losses at Illinois and Michigan. The Gophers trailed Purdue 47-32 at halftime in a eventual 79-66 loss at Williams Arena, but showed some signs of breaking the trend against Michigan State on Jan. 25 and in a Feb. 5 win at Nebraska and a subsequent home loss to Wisconsin.

But the Gophers, with their NCAA Tournament hopes fading with each game, took their first-half struggles to a new level in a must-win game Tuesday, allowing No. 6 Ohio State to take control with a 20-0 first-half run. The Buckeyes cruised to a 78-68 victory at Williams Arena.

The Gophers failed to score for more than seven minutes, allowing the Buckeyes to turn a 12-12 tie into a 32-12 lead. Ohio State never let Minnesota to get closer than eight points the rest of the game.

"I was really disappointed, that was disturbing," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "We had guys that felt the pressure and tried to score. 'I need to score,' but no, we need to score, we need to screen down, we need to make that pass. 'Not me, I need to go score.' That's what happens when you see guys inside getting their shot blocked and taking it up when they should have passed it. We needed better defense, we needed to rebound and get some stops."

The Gophers have lost for the third time this season at home in conference play and fourth time overall. Minnesota (17-9, 5-8) moved three games below the much-desired .500 mark in conference play that's essential for an at-large NCAA tourney bid. The loss was the team's fourth in the past six games.

Forward Rodney Williams said the slow start against the highly ranked Buckeyes was troubling.

"I don't think any of us really know why we do that, but it happens and we fight back, but we can't dig ourselves holes in the beginning of the game, especially a 20-point hole," Williams said. "That's something we have to work on, coming out stronger, not just starting out the half strong but having intensity the whole game."

The Gophers play their next four games against potential tournament teams, opening the segment with a tough road game against Northwestern on Feb. 18.

TRENDING: Freshman forward Oto Osenieks might start getting more playing time with the Gophers looking for an answer to solve their recent problems. The 6-foot-8, 220-pounder entered the Ohio State contest having played more than 19 minutes just once this season -- a 23-minute game against Mount St. Mary's on Nov. 21. Osenieks played a career-high 26 minutes against the No. 6 Buckeyes, scoring 10 points and tying his personal best with four rebounds. Osenieks nailed his 11th 3-pointer of the season. He came into Tuesday's game with just a combined 12 minutes played in his last two games, but his shooting, size and energy might earn him more playing time with the Gophers having lost three of their past four games.

NOTES, QUOTES

Impressive comeback comes up short against Wisconsin

--Coming off a win at Nebraska, Minnesota came charging back from a late 13-point deficit and held No. 21 Wisconsin scoreless for the final 7:43 regulation, but missed two chances to win and lost the Feb. 9 game in overtime.

"I like this team, I like how hard we play, we play extremely hard, just sometimes we have to play a lot smarter," coach Tubby Smith said after the loss.

"I thought our kids did a good job of battling back, fighting back. We got off to such a poor start. Wisconsin got off to a great start, and I thought it's hard to overcome them shooting 11 threes in the first half. But we did and I've got to give a lot of credit to them.

"I thought both teams battled extremely hard but in a game like this when we fought back and had a shot to win it and then to go into overtime and we just couldn't get it going. I don't know what happened."

--Wisconsin went 15-for-17 from the foul line in overtime and 21-for-25 in the game to escape with the victory.

--The Gophers still have a Feb. 28 rematch with No. 21 Wisconsin on the schedule.

--Minnesota's home game with No. 23 Indiana has been switched from Feb. 25 to the 26th as a conference wild card television game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- The number of assists Minnesota had in 45 minutes of basketball in the overtime loss to Wisconsin.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We fought back real hard at the end of game. We got back 10 points at the end of the game. We had some shots that just didn't fall. In overtime they just made shots that we couldn't." -- F Rodney Williams after the loss to Wisconsin.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--at Northwestern, Feb. 18

KEY MATCHUPS: Northwestern is led by the 1-2 punch of forward John Shurna and swingman Drew Crawford. They rank 1-2 on the Wildcats in both scoring and rebounding, Shurna at 19.5 points and 5.7 rebounds and Crawford at 16.9 and 4.7, heading into the Feb. 12 game at Purdue.

FUTURES MARKET: The Gophers staged a big comeback to force overtime against No. 21 Wisconsin and freshman guard Andre Hollins was really the player who got them there. He scored 18 of his career-high 20 points after halftime and was 5-for-6 on 3-pointers, all after the break. He did rush a final shot in regulation, but his team wouldn't have been there without him.

"He was outstanding tonight," said coach Tubby Smith. "He's the reason we got back in the ballgame and he's very capable of it. He'll have to see a lot more time. Some guys are just struggling."

Hollins didn't get the shot he or the team wanted at the end of regulation and said, "I'm very, very highly upset with myself about that, I should have gotten the ball on the rim and should have at least gotten a chance. That's going to haunt me for a while, we had a second chance with the rebound but it didn't fall."

PLAYER NOTES

--Junior G Julian Welch was one of four Gophers to finish in double figures in Tuesday's loss to Ohio State. Welch scored 11 points on 2-of-6 shooting, but he handed out a career-best nine assists and picked up five rebounds. Welch hadn't dished out more than six assists in a game this season, but he now has 20 assists in his past four games.

--Freshman G Andre Hollins started against Ohio State after scoring a career-high 20 points in his previous game against Wisconsin. Hollins opened the season by starting 10 straight games, but he hadn't started a game since the Appalachian State contest on Dec. 6. Hollins contributed eight points and three assists in the loss to the Buckeyes, his third straight game with a minimum of eight points.


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