The Minnesota fan base saw a different Gophers basketball team than they were used to watching before the winter break.
Two starters have now been gone for three games. Reggie Lynch has been suspended for violating the school's sexual misconduct code, while Amir Coffey is out with a shoulder injury. Returning fans saw a team scrambling to fill gaps.
Couple the absences with a matchup against a nationally ranked team, and the result was the worst loss of the season for Minnesota. After a glimmer of hope at the start, Minnesota (13-6, 2-4 Big Ten) fell to Big Ten opponent No. 5 Purdue (17-2, 6-0 Big Ten) on Saturday 81-47 at Williams Arena.
"They're a very, very good team," Gophers head coach Richard Pitino said. "They're one of the better teams in the country. They showed it today. So, very, very difficult opponent and certainly we're over-matched right now."
The 34-point loss marked the worst defeat for the Gophers this season, and the 47 points scored by Minnesota was the lowest total in any game this season. The three-game losing streak started after the Gophers lost Lynch and Coffey.
"It's hard because we're such a totally different team, I feel like we need months of practice to get better," Pitino said.
Purdue ran away with it in the second half. Gophers guard Isaiah Washington cut the Boilermakers lead to 10 with three free throws, but Purdue hit back to outscore the Gophers 41-20, accompanied by shooting 54 percent from the field in the second half. The Gophers shot 29 percent in the second.
Washington led the Gophers with 11 points, guard Nate Mason had eight and forward Jordan Murphy had 10. The loss against Purdue marked the second game in a row Murphy was left without a double-double. Murphy had 17 double-doubles to start the season before his streak was snapped last game at Northwestern.
Murphy said without Lynch playing in the paint has been more difficult.
"Without [Lynch] there, I mean, teams can definitely double me a little bit more often, a little easier," Murphy said. "I don't really have someone to throw it down to when someone's posting up like that. I think it's a huge difference, something that we miss."
The Gophers kept it close against Purdue through the beginning of the first half, eventually taking the lead at 11-9 with 12:37 to play. The lead, however, was short lived. The Boilermakers went on a 15-0 run and before long, Purdue led the Gophers by a score of 40-20 with two minutes to play in the half. The Gophers went on a 7-0 run at the end of the half, going into the locker room with a more-bearable 40-27 deficit.
Purdue's Vincent Edwards led the Boilermakers with a season-high 25 points, 20 of them coming in the first half.
The Gophers will go on a three game road trip, starting at University Park, Pennsylvania, where they will play Penn State (13-6, 3-3 Big Ten) on Monday.
"Playing with those two pieces [Lynch and Coffey] for so long ... kind of shocked us a little bit that we don't have them anymore," Murphy said. "We have to just learn how to play without them."