Whatever mojo the Gophers had coming out of their near-miss with Syracuse was missing in the second half of a double-digit loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks in the second round of the Maui Invitational. With the Gophers leading 40-35 heading into the half, the Razorbacks decimated Minnesota’s zone defense in second half, and the Gophers turned into a bumbling, slippery, mistake-prone mess of a team. This was surprising in that they looked so composed down the stretch merely one night before that against Syracuse. In the end, however, Arkansas outscored the Gophers 52-33 in the second half to bring home an 87-73 victory, which was just as ugly as the score indicated.
With a new team and a new coach, there are bound to be growing pains, and hopefully this type of loss shows the team where there most vulnerable and how they can deal with adversity. The Razorbacks sliced and diced the Gophers defense, scoring 36 points in the paint and basically scoring at will in the second half. Hot shooting kept Minnesota in the game early on, but an unsustainable 65% mark in the first meant there would be a regression to the mean. Unfortunately, that regression came in the form of being unable to penetrate against Arkansas, going cold from outside and really just being unable to hang on to the ball. Bad passes and decisions plagued the team in the second half.
Richard Pitino said after the game that Arkansas just beat the Gophers at their own game, which was certainly the case. Minnesota played too fast for its own good on many possessions, which ended in wild shots and, sometimes, no shots at all. The Razorbacks were content to go as fast as Minnesota wanted to go, which usually ended up in their favor. And the outburst of scoring in the first half from the likes of Malik Smith and the rest of the team was basically non-existent in the second. For a team that relies so heavily on shooting, going cold for long stretches of time is a death knell, especially when they can’t stop the other team. And the Gophers faced a nine-minute stretch in the second half where they scored only one field goal with eight free throws.
Not much else to say in this one. After a nice showing against Syracuse, it’s possible the team was out of gas in the second half against Arkansas. At the very least, this showed that there is still a ways to go for the team to shore itself up on defense, and to have the capability to slow itself down and score points when it matters. Being exposed in that fashion might do them well going forward.
The Gophers find themselves in the situation they’d dreaded since starting the tournament — having to face Division II Chaminade in their final game. In this lose-lose situation, two outcomes await them: either they beat Chaminade like they’re supposed to and it does nothing for their resume, or they lose and have a glaring loss to a non D-I opponent following them around all season. Yuck.
- Mo Walker made his debut in this game, playing 11 minute in spelling Elliott Eliason. While he wasn’t spectacular, he did look like he was making strides through the game and shaking off rust. He’ll be a valuable addition at the very least in keeping Eliason fresh and out of foul trouble, hopefully.
- Malik Smith was on fire in the first half, getting to the hoop and hitting two long three-pointers. His made shots are an instant boost of energy for the team, and it’s clear that he can be a game changer at times. On the flip side, he was essentially absent in the second half, and the offense definitely missed him.