Minnesota traveled to Ann Arbor to take on the #16 Michigan Wolverines but came up short again, falling in the final seconds 61-56, sending the Gophers to 0-2 in conference play and 12-3 on the season. The end of the Gophers’ latest conference loss felt eerily similar to the wild double-overtime defeat at the hands of Illinois four days earlier, with the Gophers battling back from an early deficit to put themselves in position to win down the stretch. Once again, however, the team was unable to fully get over the hump despite efforts by Julian Welch and Chip Armelin late in the second half.
Both teams faced offensive woes in the first half, and the halftime score of 23-19 in favor of Michigan reflected that. Though the Gophers weren’t scoring in droves, they held a good Michigan offense to only 38% shooting including 6-20 from long range for the game. The one thing they couldn’t contain was Michigan’s Trey Burke, who lit up the Gophers for 27 points on 8-11 shooting.
Missing Trevor Mbakwe hadn’t been more evident this season as the Gophers once again got outrebounded 34-26, while giving up 14 offensive rebounds. As we know, Mbakwe had a knack for pulling down tough rebounds and gave Minnesota the advantage in the paint almost every night. Without him battling down low, the Gophers have had trouble grabbing missed shots and frequently give up second chances. When facing teams like Michigan – who can convert on those second chances – giving up offensive rebounds can be a death knell.
Julian Welch was huge down the stretch and further cemented himself as this season’s go-to guy when the team needs a bucket. Welch hit back-to-back threes with under three minutes left to bring Minnesota to within one, but didn’t attempt a shot in the final two minutes of the game. Two hair-pulling possessions down the stretch that ended with a shot-clock violation and a missed Rodney Williams three-point heave spelled the end for the Gophers.
Minnesota again dropped a winnable game against a beatable team. Further adding to the frustration was the ineptitude in the final two minutes that saw no points scored after another valiant comeback. Seeing the team come all the way back against solid teams on the road twice in a row is certainly fun to watch, but it’s hard to have confidence in the team executing in crunch time when it really matters after watching the finales of these two games. The Gopher fan in all of us has been trained to expect misses and failures like we’ve seen the past two games, but with two possessions coming out of timeouts in the final two minutes, you’d expect a bit more cohesion and less chaotic possessions that end with Rodney Williams chucking up a three pointer.
- Minnesota has not beaten a ranked team on the road since January 1985 against Michigan State. Sickening.
- The #FreeChip fans will likely be howling for more playing time. Armelin provided a spark off the bench late in the second half, scoring five quick points during the Gopher comeback. Armelin played only 13 minutes but still managed to put up seven shots, making three of them. Armelin is exciting, if not reckless, but the results were there against Michigan.
- After a 22-point explosion against Illinois, Ralph Sampson was held to six points, though he pulled down 10 rebounds.
- The Gophers only got to the line eight times in the game, well below the norm. Without much of an inside game, the Gophers will need to figure out a way to get the ball close to the basket and draw some fouls, otherwise they risk settling for lower-percentage jump shots.
- A bright spot for Minnesota was the relative lack of turnovers, as the team only turned the ball over 12 times in the game.