Conference wins in the Big Ten don’t come easy. But road conference wins? Forget about it. At least, that’s what it’s felt like in Minnesota over the past two seasons, where we’ve most recently seen the Gophers endure an 8-game road losing streak.
That all ended on Wednesday night as Minnesota came from behind to take down Penn State in a wild 68-65 victory. It was a sloppy one, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Take a step back and consider that Richard Pitino won his first ever road conference game, and now rides a two-game conference winning streak. Granted, it was on the road at Penn State, but in a conference where nothing is guaranteed, picking up ANY road conference win, especially with a team in a semi-rebuilding mode, is huge.
Of course, there are plenty of subtexts. This now marks the second game in a row where the Gophers have had to work pretty hard to avoid a loss to a subpar team. After almost giving up a 19-point lead at home to Purdue, Minnesota had to rally from an 8-point deficit just to survive Penn State. And the propensity of this team to go dark for minutes on end is starting to appear more than just a couple isolated incidents. The first half of this game reminded me of the first half of Chaminade, where the Gophers were almost taking the opponent for granted, and that can’t happen.
With an intense part of the schedule coming up, Minnesota can’t afford to go 65% from the line, or have one of its best players score in the low single digits. The lackadaisical nature of the droughts looks really contagious on this team, as do the shooting streaks. Minnesota couldn’t miss against Purdue, but it also couldn’t get much going at times against Penn State. That’s concerning with Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa all up next.
Elliott Eliason was a beast once again, and is quickly becoming the most consistent player on the team. Nabbing his fifth double-double of the season, Eliason racked up 11 points and 12 rebounds while swatting 4 blocks, and proved once again to be a force on the inside. But one game after setting the world on fire with 18 points and hot shooting, Austin Hollins was no where to be found, going 1-5 from the field and scoring only 4 points. He made up for it down the stretch with some good defense but, man, that’s two bad performances in three games for the senior. Hollinsanity was once again did not live up to expectations.
Drizzy Mathieu, though he looked completely overmatched in the first half, showed some guts in the second and actually ended up with 16 points, which was good to see.
The jury is still out on whether or not these streaks of ineptitude are a trend or a mirage. However, with the cream of the conference crop on the horizon, we’ll know in pretty short order where the Gophers stack up with the big boys of the Big Ten.