On their final road trip of the regular season, the Gophers tried to put a week of disappointment behind them and finish strong before the Big Ten Tournament. Instead, Wednesday was another evening of frustration.
On numerous occasions, Minnesota (13-16, 7-12 Big Ten) trailed Indiana (19-11, 9-10 Big Ten) only to battle back and tighten the contest. Ultimately, the Gophers ran out of rallies and faltered in the final 10 minutes to drop the road contest 72-67, falling to the Hoosiers for the second time in two weeks.
"We certainly missed free trows, just a couple turnovers down the stretch," head coach Richard Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "And then a few defensive breakdowns. Give [Indiana] credit, they wore us down in the second half with their size and physicality."
To begin the game, the Gophers fought back from some early deficits. Senior Alihan Demir scored the first bucket of the game for Minnesota but Indiana answered with an 11-2 run to take the early lead. Behind a 3-pointer from freshman Isaiah Ihnen and a trio of scores at the rim from sophomore Daniel Oturu, the Gophers tightened the contest at 17-15 midway through the period.
A sudden eight-point burst from Indiana in a span of one minute gave the Hoosiers their largest lead of the half at 25-15, but once again Minnesota managed to battle back before halftime. Three-pointers from Ihnen and redshirt junior Payton Willis helped bring Minnesota back within two points with 2:22 remaining in the period.
With under 10 seconds until intermission, Ihnen's third 3-pointer of the half gave Minnesota a 34-32 lead, it's first time pulling ahead since the score was 2-0. To close the half, the Gophers scored on four of their last five possessions. At the break, Oturu (10), Ihnen (nine) and sophomore Gabe Kalscheur (eight), had accounted for 27 of Minnesota's 34 points.
"We got it to [Oturu] a lot, that was part of the plan," Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "I thought he could have had 40 [points], but he missed a bunch of good looks at the rim."
The same trend of Indiana scoring runs continued in the second half as the Hoosiers scored the first eight points following intermission. Before the Gophers could fall too far behind, two 3-pointers from Willis helped eat into the deficit.
Minnesota pulled ahead once again with 10:44 remaining when Oturu jumped into a passing lane, leading to a breakaway dunk to give the Gophers a 51-50 edge. However, as was so often the case, Minnesota could not extend its lead. Despite the game featuring seven lead changes, the Gophers only led for 3:02 and never by more than two points.
With the game tied at 54, Indiana used a 9-1 run to pull away and later used a 8-1 run to cement the victory. Meanwhile, Minnesota limped to the finish with two field goal droughts of 5:23 and 3:08 in the final 10 minutes.
"It was really physical," Pitino told the Gophers Radio Network. "On both ends, it really was. You have to give [Indiana] credit. They did a good job of going at us."
Two Gophers finished in double figures. Oturu carried Minnesota's scoring efforts with a game-high 24 points to go along with 16 rebounds. Kalscheur scored 14 points but like the first meeting against Indiana when he shot 1-9 from three-point range, he struggled from behind the arc, going 1-6.
All five of Indiana's starters scored at least 10 points. Freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis replicated his performance from the teams' contest on Feb. 19 when he scored 27 points, leading the Hoosiers with 18 points on Wednesday.
With the loss, Minnesota will finish 12th in the Big Ten standings, meaning they will not get a first round bye in the conference tournament. The Gophers will open the tournament next Wednesday against either Northwestern or Nebraska. But first, Minnesota will Nebraska on Sunday for senior night.