What can you even say about a loss like last night? Less than two weeks after the Gophers nearly pulled out a thrilling double-overtime victory in Champaign and had us thinking they might actually need to be taken seriously, they were handed 13-point drubbing at the hands of the Purdue Boilermakers, getting run out of their own gym in a 79-66 loss.
What had been the team’s bread and butter all season – defense – was turned on its head by Purdue, who shot a blistering 55% while canning 10-15 three pointers, all of which came in the first half. The Gophers had no answer for the Boilermaker offense, who had four players score in double figures, and spent much of the game merely trying to keep the lead at or around 20 points. Lewis Jackson ran wild, making Maverick Ahanmisi look slower than glue en route to a game-high 20 points, and D.J. Byrd went 5-5 from long range in the first half, scoring 18 points off the bench.
It wasn’t that the Gophers experienced offensive woes either, and the team shot 41% from the field, grabbed 11 offensive rebounds and hit 5-10 shots from deep. Rather, it was a complete defensive breakdown that allowed the Boilers to score 47 points in the first half, three days after putting up 45 total points against a fairly beaten down Penn State team.
And this all came at home in Williams Arena, where Minnesota is quickly losing any home court advantage it may have had.
Then there was Ralph Sampson III where, if you watch closely, you can actually see his career bottoming out … as a senior. Here’s a guy who is now the lone senior on the squad, a veteran on a team with very few veterans. Coming into a game where intensity is key – the team dropped three straight, lost to a fairly inferior Iowa team and needed a win in the worst way, in front of a crowd that wants nothing more than to see a win against a Big Ten team. You’d expect a guy in that position to take the reins of the team, show some gumption and possibly inspire his teammates to play better and band together when the season is almost assuredly on the line. What do you get?
Two points on 1-3 shooting, three rebounds and two turnovers in 13 minutes. Thirteen minutes! Perhaps his worst game ever, at a point in time where the team needs him to not suck. In fact, Ralph basically didn’t play in the second half, presumably because Tubby was trying to teach him a lesson. Will not playing inspire him to actually play better? Who knows. Probably not.
Speaking of sucking, how about Maverick Ahanmisi? His final line: zero points on 0-3 shooting, three assists and two turnovers in 19 minutes. That’s a stat line you can achieve by standing alone in the corner and not doing anything, which is basically what he did. What Ahanmisi is doing out there the running the show is anyone’s guess, but you’d like to think that Andre Hollins will start seeing more minutes as we move forward, if nothing else but to get him some experience. Hollins actually showed some intensity against Purdue, diving for balls, getting dirty and causing turnovers. He was 1-6 from the field and had four TOs, but also had four steals. Get that man some more minutes!
But again, offense was not the problem. In fact, the team actually had a fairly decent night and three guys had notable performance. Rodney Williams had one of his best games on record, putting up a career high 19 points 8-15 shooting and grabbing 14 rebounds (speaking of stepping up in a big game) and Chip Armelin was instant offense off the bench, hitting 5-7 shots (two of which were threes) and putting up 12 points.
Perhaps the best takeaway from the atrocity was Joe Coleman who, in his first start, proved he belonged in the starting lineup and showed a much-needed nose for the bucket, scoring 14 points, grabbing six boards and nabbing three steals. If there’s anything to get excited about it’s Joe Coleman.
But enough about the good stuff, because that’s not the point. Just where are the Gophers as a team right now?
First off, they are lumped squarely with Nebraska (basically the laughing stock of Big Ten basketball) at the bottom of the standings at 0-4. They haven’t won a conference game since Feb. 13, 2011 and haven’t won a HOME conference game in eight tries. They now go on the road against top-10 Indiana in probably the hardest place to play in the entire conference – Assembly Hall and then on the road again against a suddenly-not-so-awful Penn State team. After failing to stop Iowa’s offense and putting up a miserable effort against Purdue, what was once a promising, almost underrated season has now devolved into a festering mess of disarray, loud noises and plenty of losses. Where the Gophers were merely a Julian Welch free throw away from starting off on the right foot are now possibly the second worst team in the conference.
And its only early January!