This one was over by halftime.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers dropped their most lopsided game of the year against the previously winless-in-conference Illinois Fighting Illini, 95-68 in Champaign, Ill.
Here’s what you need to know:
- As unflappable as the Gophers looked in Madison when they beat Wisconsin less than two weeks prior, they looked equally overwhelmed Wednesday night in the State Farm Center. Minnesota’s performance matched up more closely to the way it played in blowout losses at Boston College and Ohio State. Illinois (5-12, 1-5) set up wherever it wanted in the post and backed down bigs Daniel Oturu and Eric Curry with ease. The Gophers went cold from deep — a recurring and concerning trend — hitting just 3 of 14 against Illinois’ 8 of 16. It was the Illini’s best performance since hitting 16 of 30 against Mississippi Valley State. Their 56 percent shooting from the field was far and away its best of the season. What happened to the “connected” defense Richard Pitino talked about after the Wisconsin game? That’ll be up to the coaching staff to figure out before Penn State on Saturday.
- Pitino wasn’t naive to the fact that Illini had potential. Here’s what he told reporters on Tuesday. “You can take your playbook and throw it away. You are going to have to play differently, so it’s difficult. … We’ve got to throw their record out the window a little bit. I thought versus Michigan it was anybody’s game for them. At Northwestern, they rebounded the ball and had one of the last plays to win the game. He’s a terrific coach. They have a very very difficult system that will be very challenging for us.”Pitino continued: “They deny every pass, every pass. They pressure the ball extremely aggressively, so they make you play off the bounce. They rotate in the lane, they will send two, three guys at you, try to draw charges. When it’s good, it’s really really challenging to run any of the offense. You are going to look sloppy. Where you are comfortable running your sets, they take it all away.”
Those who watched the game can attest that Pitino’s words proved prescient. The Gophers frequently let the shot clock run down without any real progress offensively. Early in the first half, they committed two shot-clock violations that set the tone for the night. Amir Coffey also had one of his worst games, shooting 2 of 13 despite getting assertive early in the second half.
- The Gophers hadn’t allowed 100 points since Feb. 20, 1988 — over 30 years ago. Illinois scored 51 in the first half and didn’t let up, leading by as many as 36 in the second half as the Gophers packed it in. They had 89 points with over six minutes to go in the game before slowing up and sparing the Gophers the embarrassment of breaking a 31-year streak.
- Were there any good performances for Minnesota? Only Oturu might deserve some credit for his 17 points and eight rebounds. He showed a good nose for the ball on the offensive glass with four offensive boards and delivered some tough finishes in traffic, an area he struggled with earlier in the season.
- If you can figure out the pronunciations, you may be saying the names of Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Ayo Dosunmu for a long time. The two Illini freshmen combined for 43 points on 17 of 25 shooting. Part of the reason Illinois has struggled this year has been its youth. But between Bezhanishvili’s strength in the paint and at the line, on top of Dosunmu’s fearlessness in the open floor, the Illini have a superb tandem to build from moving forward.
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