One. Gophers have to learn to finish.
This Gopher team is right there but they lost yet another close game. Four Big Ten games have went to the final buzzer and three times Minnesota wasn’t able to get a clean shot late to win the game. Losses at home against Michigan State, at Penn State, and again at home against Wisconsin saw Minnesota have a chance to win but they couldn’t produce a high percentage attempt.
Minnesota had a chance to beat Michigan State in overtime but Amir Coffey and then Nate Mason each missed buzzer beaters. Mason’s game winner against MSU was off balance and tough. Tonight Akeem Springs game winning chance was a hotly contested three with no room to try and separate although he came close to making the shot (and he hit a huge shot late in regulation). At Penn State they didn’t even get a look. Minnesota did get the late win against Purdue but in game winning chances at the buzzer they aren’t getting very good looks.
This team is right there. They had a good non-conference record, won a pair of Big Ten road games, and although they have three Big Ten losses those contests were nail-biters. You knew a slump would come at some point during the year, now it’s time to get out of it.
Two. Dominated Inside.
In the first half Ethan Happ wasn’t a problem as Minnesota held him to two scores. Nigel Hayes was the issue. He scored five times for 13 first half points including two baseline attacks where Jordan Murphy got no help from Amir Coffey or Bakary Konate, and a three where Murphy went under a screen and Hayes had the room to set and hit.
In the second half Ethan Happ scored 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting with physical pivots muscling into baskets. Happ also used a spin move affectively to get his baskets. Happ fouled Reggie Lynch out and put up massive numbers (28 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists) while Lynch had eight points, seven boards, and five blocks but his 20 minutes was nearly half of the 38 minutes that Happ played. Bakary Konate played 24 hard minutes but in the second half he could do nothing with Happ.
Happ joined Nick Ward and Caleb Swanigan in putting up massive numbers inside while Minnesota looked helpless to stop them.
Three. Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason.
Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy are in a big time slump and it’s not a coincidence that Minnesota has lost three straight during their slump. Mason had ten assists against two turnovers but shot 3 of 14 and wasn’t able to make the clutch shots late. The junior did the job moving the ball to his fellow wings for point production (Amir Coffey had a game high 19 points, Akeem Springs 16, and Dupree McBrayer 14) but once again late Mason couldn’t get into space for a decent percentage shot late for the victory. The Gophers need Mason to come out of the shooting slump he’s been in since the amazing game at Purdue.
Jordan Murphy didn’t play down the stretch for the second straight contest. Why? He was absent on the glass (1 in 26 minutes), Jordan had four points, and defensively he made so many mistakes that Pitino had to take him off the floor. Jordan Murphy is surely in the middle of a sophomore slump and the Gophers need him to come out of it.
Four. The Springs-McBrayer starting line-up switch.
Akeem Springs gives Minnesota a different dimension in their common line-up. He forces very little offense (remember when that was an early November problem), Akeem does a great job moving the basketball, and Springs moves into space to catch and hit at the arc at a high percentage. In 36 minutes of play Springs made half of his dozen looks, half of his six three-pointers, and scored 16.
Meanwhile Dupree McBrayer scored 14 points in 21 minutes with four assists against two turnovers. McBrayer knocked out a handful of feet set jumpers and did a nice job bringing the attack off the bench. That said he did have a couple attack and attempts into contesting defenders where he looked off open shooters. That is exactly what got him on the bench and that must improve. But, McBrayer was good off the bench.
Five. Ending the Slump
The losing streak has now hit three games and Minnesota desperately needs to get a win to even the Big Ten record at 4-4. This Wednesday the Gophers are at Ohio State in a game that is winnable but it’s on the road. They then face a tough Maryland team at home and then go to Illinois. If the Gophers can muster this effort at Ohio State and at home versus Maryland they should be able to get back in the win column. That said this team desperately needs Nate Mason and/or Jordan Murphy to break out of their slump and they need more minutes from Reggie Lynch. Reggie made it to 20 tonight, they need him at 24 or 25.
Extra. Amir Coffey.
Let’s once again relive how special of a young player he is for Minnesota. In 41 minutes Coffey went for 19 points, five boards, and three assists. Tonight the jumpshot was on and it has been steadily become more consistent. If Amir is making his jumper he becomes one of the toughest players to stop anyplace because his agility, length, and skill is a special combination. The two things that needed to improve coming into Big Ten play were becoming a more consistent jumpshooter and becoming a more consistent position defender. Those things are coming around.
Also, the foul on Amir Coffey at the end of regulation. I’m sitting in the press area and still as of right now I have not seen the play. There is nothing I can say about it other than that when Richard Pitino was asked about it in the post game he responded “are you trying to get me in trouble?”