An incredibly tough loss to swallow for several reasons. Not only did the Gophers control the game for 34.5 minutes, but they actually looked like they understood how to score consistently against a difficult team. However, their panicked, inexperienced-looking final four minutes just sh0wed how far they are from being a team that can handle crunch time.
This wasn’t a game that was a must-win, but definitely fell into the category of “extremely important.” Now Minnesota is 12-7 with 11 games to go. Depending on your perception of the Selection Committee’s criteria, the Gophers basically have to win seven or eight of their final 11 games to have a chance at the NCAA Tournament. Not an easy task, with the schedule peppered with Wisconsin, Purdue, and one apiece at Michigan and Illinois.
What’s frustrating about this loss is how it happened. Minnesota controlled over 3/4 of the game with great rebounding, efficient shot selection and a patient half-court set. The overall flow of the game looked smooth even with Al Nolen sitting on the bench due to academic ineligibility. As late as halfway through the second half it looked like the Gophers had transformed overnight into a a squad that could run with the best. But their inability to respond to State’s late run, even with homecourt advantage, is extremely frustrating. They looked just as lost in the final four minutes as they had throughout the season in tight situations. Two points in the final three and half minutes at home isunacceptable this late in the season.
Even more head-scratching is the play that was drawn up (I use that term loosely) by Tubby for the final possession. I’m no coach, but a Westbrook circus shot with three defenders collapsing in the paint is not what I would have in mind for a finale. The final possession epitomized and capped the meltdown that occurred.
Hand it to Michigan State for turning the game around, though. They hit some tough threes that Minnesota defenders couldn’t do much about. As much as the U gave the game away, Michigan State helped themselves by hitting big shots in big situations.