The Golden Gophers got off a great start at Ohio State on Saturday, but much like the second half of the Big Ten season, the second half of the game steadily spun out of control, as the Gophers lost 64-46. A loss wasn’t particularly surprising, and neither was the 18 point margin, but the way the loss occurred has to be particularly frustrating.
Jumping out to a 10 point half-time lead against a ranked team, on the road no less, requires some excellent basketball, and the Gophers put together one of their best first halves of the season in Columbus. The defense wasn’t spectacular, but it was exactly what it needed to be. Minnesota’s zone forced Ohio State to take long jump shots late in the shot clock, and the Gophers cleaned up on the defensive glass. On the offensive end, Minnesota was careful but not cautious. They didn’t take bad shots, worked the shot clock, and more often than not got shots close to the rim.
Unfortunately, Minnesota’s half-time adjustment was to do nothing in the second half that worked in the first half. The Gophers gave up plenty of bad turnovers, took plenty of bad shots, and didn’t bother to get back on defense. Ohio State took advantage of Minnesota’s NBA All-Star Game defense, and matched their first-half scoring total about 5 minutes into the second half.
Minnesota’s defense was awful again, and is back to 11th place in the Big Ten. The bigger concern, at least lately, is becoming the offense. After the first Wisconsin game this season, the Gopher offense ranked 14th in the country. Now, it ranks 43rd. It’ll probably improve some in the last three-games because Iowa, Michigan, and Penn State aren’t the best defenses, but the offense is no longer capable of overcoming a poor defensive performance.
Ohio State has one of the best defenses in the country, but the Minnesota offense made their job easy. The Buckeyes seemed to make a concerted effort to let the least efficient offensive Gophers try to beat them, while limiting shot attempts by players who had a decent chance to make them.
The players with the best chance to make shots should take most of the shots. Of the 10 Gophers who took a shot a shot on Saturday, only Deandre Mathieu and Daquain McNeil took the right number of shots.The Gophers aren’t going to win when Joey King is chucking from the outside, and they aren’t going to win when Andre Hollins, particularly when is in can’t miss mode, only takes four shots. There are many way to keep a team from scoring, and letting the right players shoot can be an effective strategy.
Thanks in part to bubble teams that are as mediocre as ever, the Gophers still have a slim but very real chance to make the tournament if they can win two of their final three regular season games. To do that, they’ll need to find a way to build off of Saturday’s first half, and learn from/forget/get angry about the second half.