Having already advanced further than many expected, Minnesota headed into the Big Ten Tournament semifinal match-up as an underdog once again. This time, the opponent was No. 3 seed Michigan, a team that defeated the Gophers twice in the regular season.
Playing its third game in less than 72 hours, Minnesota (21-13, 9-11 Big Ten) appeared to be out of energy. Michigan (28-5, 15-5 Big Ten) closed the first half on a 25-6 run and then poured on an 11-2 run early in the second to bury the Gophers en route to a final score of 76-49.
"It stings. I don't want [our team] to be satisfied," said head coach Richard Pitino. "But also I do want them to take a step back and say, 'Ok, we had a really good win versus Penn State, we had a really good win versus Purdue.' We came into this tournament needing to do some things to make the NCAA Tournament and they did that under the most adverse circumstances and the most pressure."
In the first half of Friday night's quarterfinal victory against Purdue, Minnesota used five 3-pointers to build a halftime lead, but never again connected from beyond the arc. The drought from long range reached over 40 minutes on Saturday as the Gophers went 0-5 from 3-point range in the opening period.
In addition to poor 3-point shooting, Minnesota struggled from the foul line early, another area where they excelled on Friday, making 16-21 against Purdue. Minnesota's three freshmen, Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur and Jarvis Omersa each went to the line in the opening 10 minutes, but combined to make just 1-6 attempts.
"Today, we couldn't hit shots in the first half," Pitino said. "That really, really affected us. You could just tell we totally ran out of gas and Michigan was really good."
Michigan dominated both defensively and offensively in the opening 20 minutes. Junior Zavier Simpson powered the Wolverines' offense, scoring nine points before the intermission, also adding six assists. Sophomore Jordan Poole and freshman Ignas Brazdeikis also scored nine points in the first half, lifting Michigan to a commanding 38-19 lead.
"They were making shots, we couldn't hit anything," Pitino said. "We were really easy to guard today. They were choking down in the paint, we weren't making them pay by kicking it out."
After the half, the gap continued to widen. With 15 minutes to play, Michigan scored nine unanswered points in 70 seconds. The lead widened to as many as 35 before Minnesota narrowed the margin in garbage time. Ultimately, the 27-point gap tied the Gophers' Jan. 16 loss at Illinois for their largest defeat of the season. Additionally, the 49 points were the least Minnesota scored in a game this year.
"It's pretty stifling," Oturu said of Michigan's defense. "They're very active with their hands and so being able to make quick moves is the most important thing when your'e down there on offense."
Junior Amir Coffey led Minnesota with 14 points but saw his streak of games with 20-plus points snapped at five.
"Amir hit his stride there later on in the Big Ten season," said senior Jordan Murphy. "I think with that mindset, him being aggressive, really helped us and gave a lot of our other guys confidence as well."
Murphy contributed 10 points and led the team with 6 rebounds while senior Dupree McBrayer had a team-high 7 assists.
For Michigan, sophomore Isaiah Livers led the team with 21 points, 17 of which came in the second half. Simpson scored 15 points and came one assist shy of a double-double.
Minnesota will now wait to find out who its first NCAA Tournament opponent will be. The schedule will be revealed Sunday at 5 p.m. CT.