There is a reason why the Golden Gophers have never beaten a top five team on the road, and it isn’t just a lack of quality Gopher basketball teams. Top five teams, by definition are really, really good. It can take a perfect performance to beat an elite team on the road, and even a perfect performance is sometimes not enough. Instead of achieving their own perfection in the first half, the Gophers were steamrolled by the Indiana Hoosiers, who put together one of the better halves of college basketball in the last decade.
It isn’t pleasant to see the good guys go down by 23 at the half, even if it wasn’t their own doing. Sometimes, it is better to step back, take a deep breath, and appreciate an elite team doing elite things. The Hoosiers made better than 60% of their first half field goals, made 7-11 three-pointers, and forced 12 Gophers turnovers. Forced, for once, is the right word to describe the Gophers turnover situation. These weren’t giveaways. Indiana just took away the ball. This is the second time this season the Gophers have run into an unbeatable opponent, the first was Duke’s 40 minute trick shot exhibition, and they lost for only their second game of the season.
There was really very little reason for the Gophers to show-up in the second half. I don’t mean showing up in the sense of trying. I mean showing up at all. It was a nice, nearly spring like day in Bloomington, and a pleasant walk around campus would have been much nicer than enduring another 20 minute beating. Instead, the Gophers delivered a beating of their own, storming back to within three-points in the closing seconds before losing a rebound on a Jordan Hulls missed free-throw a few garbage time free-throws finally did them in. Despite being outscored 52-29 in the first half, there were audible shrieks of panic echoing through Assembly Hall in the closing moments of the game. Better teams, more entitled teams would have packed up and gone home. These Gophers have character, and are willing to put in the work, even when all but hope is lost.
It is a shame that Minnesota’s best 20 minutes of basketball had to take place in the same game as the best half of basketball by anyone. The Gophers outscored the Hoosiers 52-36 in the second half, their third straight 50-plus point second half. They held the Hoosiers to 6-21 shooting in the second half, forced 11 second half turnovers, and were a bounce and a call (or 20) away from pulling an absolute stunner.
Each game during the conference season has taught us about the nature of this team, and taught the Gophers about themselves. The win against Michigan State taught us that this team thrives on a raucous home crowd. The Northwestern game taught us that they can dictate the pace and turn around a game. The Illinois game taught us that they can run with anyone. Today’s game taught us that there will not quit. They can not quit. Over the last four games the Gophers have outscored their opponents by an average of 10 points in the last 10 minutes of the game, and that includes outscoring Northwestern by only two points in the final 10 minutes of that game. The Gophers have true “spurtability” and won’t be out of any game, no matter how rough a few stretches can be.
The Gophers have had talent without leadership. They have had leadership without talent. Now they have leadership, talent, and the confidence that not even a perfect first half is enough to put them away. Today’s game will go down in the loss column, but will be worth a few wins by the end of the season.