Throughout the course of a season, every team goes through up and downs. A little over halfway through its schedule, Minnesota has had plenty of highlights including freshman Gabe Kalscheur's game-winning 3-pointer against Washington and the Gophers' first win in Madison, Wisconsin since 2009. However, they've had their share of disappointing results as well, a category Wednesday night squarely fit into.
The Gophers traveled to Champaign, Illinois to take on the Fighting Illini, a team that had yet to win a conference game. Minnesota (13-4, 3-3 Big Ten) learned quickly that records can be deceiving as Illinois (5-12, 1-5 Big Ten) asserted itself on both ends of the court, routing the Gophers 95-68.
"We took a major step backwards today," head coach Richard Pitino told the media. "We didn't compete like a Big Ten team physically. If you want to win, regardless of where the game is you have to do that, and we did not do that, so credit to Illinois."
Early on, Illinois' shooters were able to get clean looks and knock down six of their first eight 3-point attempts to build a 35-17 lead. Freshmen Ayo Dosunmu and Giorgi Bezhanishvili powered Illinois with 15 and 14 points in first half respectively.
"He's really, really good in transition," Pitino told the media about Dosunmu. "He was very efficient. When we let them go in transition like that in the first half it gave him great confidence."
It appeared Minnesota lost its bearings offensively, failing to reverse the ball and forcing up contested shots. The Gophers couldn't chip away and trailed 51-28 at intermission.
"Toughness is about doing the next best thing," Pitino told the media. "We missed shots and it affected our energy, our toughness on the defensive side. You have to get over that. If you don't get on the break it's going to be really hard to score in this league. Lesson learned. We have to get better at that,"
By halftime, the game was essentially decided. Minnesota showed a little life coming out of the locker room, cutting the lead to 17, but a 14-0 Illinois run left the Gophers lifeless for the final 13 minutes.
Freshman Daniel Oturu led the Gophers in scoring with 17 points. The only other Minnesota scorer in double-digits was senior Jordan Murphy who scored 11, but brought down three rebounds. Junior Amir Coffey, who entered the game averaging 23.4 points per game in conference play, managed nine points on 2-13 shooting.
"I have to do a better job of getting them ready to go," Pitino told the media of his team. "It starts with me and then it trickles down to every player on the team."
Minnesota will have a chance to rebound against the only remaining team without a win in Big Ten play on Saturday when they host Penn State. After that, their schedule will get tougher with matchups looming against ranked opponents in No. 2 Michigan and No. 23 Iowa.