Minnesota’s goal going into last night’s game at #4 Purdue was of course to win, and if not win, at least be competitive. That secondary goal was achieved, though the scoreboard may indicate otherwise.

The scoreboard is not always a reliable narrator. The 12 point Gopher victory in Iowa City was more of a blow out than last night’s 19 point loss. Last year’s 8 point Purdue win at Williams Arena felt like more of a blowout that Minnesota’s victory over Iowa. Last year’s 12 point loss at Michigan was the least competitive of them all. I point this out not to be a revisionist historian, but to show what all of you already know. You need to watch a game to really know what happened.

If you watched, you would probably agree that there were several positives in last night’s performance, even if the Gophers weren’t able to keep it close at the end. The Gophers played the hardest they have all season. Though they are not a lazy team, the Gophers have at times had trouble pushing their effort up that next, tenacious level. They were fiercely competitive last night beating Purdue to most loose balls and smoked the Boilermakers on the glass, securing 36.6% of offensive rebounds while allowing Purdue to snag only 22.8% of their own misses. Lawrence Westbrook’s refusal to let go of the ball on a simultaneous rebound with the much taller Robbie Hummel was especially encouraging, since Westbrook’s competitiveness is often left on the offensive end.

The Gophers were also able to successfully press one of the best ball handling team’s in the country. They forced 17 turnovers and had Purdue genuinely rattled. By the second half Purdue finally realized that Ralph Sampson III was still out with an injury and pounded the ball inside for easy baskets. Sampson’s absence coupled with rampant foul trouble (3 Gophers had 4 fouls and 3 had 3 fouls) finally wore down the Gophers.

Ultimately, the game was decided in the half court where Purdue was just better on both ends. The sport that this site covers is not called back board ball or rim ball. It is basketball, in which a team tries to put the ball in the basket. If the Gophers were awarded points for each shot taken, they would have won easily. If they were awarded points for shots that seemed to defy gravity and refused to fall, it would have been a blow out. Unfortunately those shots did not fall, and the Gophers couldn’t make enough baskets to keep the score close, let alone win. The poor shooting reached ridiculous levels in the second half as the Gophers missed their last 11 three point shots. Things were even tougher on the inside where the Gophers made less than half of their lay-ups and didn’t make a single two point jump shot. A mid range game is necessary against a perimeter swarming, interior collapsing defensive team like Purdue.

Even though the Gophers lost, they showed that they are not intimidated by Purdue, and will be looking forward to another shot at the Big Ten’s best. A healthy Sampson, a few calls going there way, and some slightly friendlier fans could have put the game within single digits heading to the closing minutes, and anything can happen then. Maybe it will in a few weeks at Williams Arena.

Who did what

  • Damian Johnson scored 12 points on 4/7 shooting, but most of those points came with the game on the verge of being already out of reach.  When points are scored can be more important than the number of points scored, and Johnson wasn’t able to step up when his teammates needed him most. His seven rebounds were very encouraging though. Often Johnson will avoid contact. Last night he was throwing his body around.
  • Colton Iverson was the epitome of Minnesota’s rebounding toughness, pulling in 9 boards, 5 on the offensive end. Unfortunately his offense appears to be regressing, and he made only 1-5 field goal attempts.
  • Al Nolen has a tendency to try to do too much against tough defensive teams. That was especially the case last night. He attempted ten shots, about 6 too many, and only made one. For last night at least, it was a return to the driving and panicking point guard.
  • Lawrence Westbrook made two early three pointers and the largely disappeared the rest of the night. He scored 9 points on 9 shots.
  • Blake Hoffarber, one of the least foul prone players in the country, picked up two immediate fouls though the second one happened only in the official’s mind. He played 20 minutes and never found his way into the offense, scoring only 3 points. I would have preferred to see him out there longer in the first half, especially with his historic lack of foul trouble. He did only have 3 fouls the entire game, so he would have been fine, and maybe would have had a better shooting night if he hadn’t gotten cold on the bench.
  • Paul Carter was the lone offensive bright spot, and may have earned more playing time after his 15 point outburst. He regularly drove to the basket where his length and quickness were often unguardable.
  • Justin Cobbs had a very freshman turnover, but played pretty well otherwise. A lot of point guards have had worse games against the Boilermakers.
  • Devoe Joseph didn’t make a shot and didn’t score a point.
  • Devron Bostick provided a spark in the first half, and finished the game with four points, four offensive rebounds, and four steals. Look for his playing time to increase if he keeps making an impact. He may have the best post moves on the team. If only he could grow about 6 inches.
  • Rodney Williams had a three pointer late in the first half that looked to be a big momentum changer. Then Minnesota’s old nemesis, the end of first half buzzer beater, reemerged with a Chris Kramer three. Williams had 5 points and 5 rebounds, not bad for a freshman against the Gophers toughest opponent to date.

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