With the football team's victory earlier in the day, it was already an exciting sports day on the University of Minnesota campus. But 236 miles southwest of Minneapolis, the men's basketball team had an important game of their own in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Minnesota (1-1) could not replicate the success of the football program on Saturday, falling to Oklahoma (2-0) by a score of 71-62. The Sooners shot 61.5% on second-half field goals as the Gophers surrendered a lead and failed to keep pace.
"We have to put more pressure on the defense to foul us," Gophers head coach Richard Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network about his team's second-half struggles. "We were good at driving and kicking out, we just missed a couple open looks."
With an early 9-4 lead with 14:40 remaining in the first half, Minnesota went cold from the field, going scoreless for over six minutes. Yet, during that stretch, the Gophers' defense managed to keep Oklahoma close. After sophomore Gabe Kalscheur ended the scoring drought with a running floater, Minnesota only trailed 13-11.
Throughout the first half, neither side managed to stretch a lead to larger than five points until the Gophers rode a quick 8-2 run to a 32-26 halftime edge. As the intermission neared, the lead changed hands back-and-forth before redshirt junior Payton Willis hit two 3-point shots in the final minute, and redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr turned a steal into points three seconds before the buzzer.
Willis's sharpshooting carried over from Monday's season opener in which he made 5-8 3-point shots. Against the Sooners, Willis knocked down four threes in the first half.
"We talked about, because we hit 13 threes last game, we can't fall in love with the three," Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. "But, we are a jump-shooting team."
For the first nine minutes of the second half, Minnesota's lead steadily remained between four and eight points. Oklahoma was limited to 23.5% on field goal attempts in the first half, but began to heat up after intermission, especially from the outside, going 6-8 on 3-point shots in the second half.
The Sooners reclaimed a 55-53 lead with 8:09 left in the game and then added another bucket onto that, capping a 14-2 run. Over the final 12 minutes, Oklahoma out-scored Minnesota 28-11.
In the game's final 12:06, Minnesota only managed to make three field goals. Ultimately, the Gophers had opportunities to extend their second-half lead, but miscues prevented them from ever gaining a firm grasp on the game. Minnesota turned the ball over 13 times on Saturday and shot 4-12 on free throws.
"In the first half we made five [3-pointers]," Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. "And obviously that dipped, but you can't miss eight free throws, especially when you give up 17 on the other side."
Carr in particular struggled from the foul line, making one of his six attempts, but otherwise the transfer from Pittsburgh had a stellar evening, leading Minnesota in points (16), assists (six) and rebounds (10). Willis could not hit another three after halftime but finished with 15 points. Sophomore Daniel Oturu also scored 15 points, adding to a solid performance with nine rebounds and three blocks.
Oklahoma's front court led the charge in victory as two forwards posted double-doubles. Junior Brady Manek led all scorers with 17 points, and senior Kristian Doolittle added 10 points. Both Manek and Doolittle had 10 rebounds each.
"I think that's a really good Oklahoma team," Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. "I think it's a talented team, I think Manek is terrific. Doolittle is tough."
Next week, the schedule does not get any easier for Minnesota. The Gophers will travel to Indianapolis, Indiana on Tuesday to play Butler before flying West for another true road game against Utah on Friday, Nov. 15.