Things were looking pretty rosy for the Gophers at halftime against St. John’s. They had just cruised to a 40-31 lead behind some nifty passing and a performance by Nate Mason that is short-listed for “Half of the Year” so far. And with the Red Storm struggling to put together any sort of organized rebuttal, it looked like a sure victory for Minnesota if they could just continue to hit St. John’s in its weak spots.
Maybe it was harder than it looked.
The Gophers pulled a Jekyll & Hyde act reminiscent of the Tubby Smith era and completely went into a shell in the second half, scoring only 21 points and missing 17 of their final 19 shots of the half, en route to a decisive 16-2 Red Storm run to close things out. 20 turnovers and 34% shooting for the game are really the only stats you need to know.
And it wasn’t like St. John’s even wanted to win. They were doing their best to give the game right back to Minnesota and looked, perhaps, even more discombobulated and prone to a beatdown than in the first half. Instead, Carlos Morris continued to heave awful shots, Elliott Eliason devolved into his usual snippy self, Mo Walker had butter on his hands and the all-Dre backcourt was MIA. And, curiously, enough, the guy who helped extend the halftime lead with 13 first-half points in the first place, Nate Mason, was no where to be found when things went sour.
It wasn’t just a bad half, it was pitiful. In fact, it was so bad that it quite literally changed my expectations for this team going forward. This wasn’t some five-minute funk where they forgot how to play for a second. This was a systemic breakdown that pulled back the curtain on this team’s weaknesses and their ability to overcome adversity. They clearly have no leader on the court. They have no secondary post option outside of Mo Walker. Morris thinks he’s a one-man show. It’s just not good.
Look, I try not to make sweeping conclusions in November, but something really didn’t feel right about this game. If the Gophers are to accomplish what I thought they could before the season, this is a game that needs to be won, and losing in such a debilitating fashion speaks to, what I fear, is a much larger issue beneath the surface. Where there distractions? Sure. The Daquien McNeil news was less than 48 hours old. But this was a bad St. John’s team with with questionable talent who executed poorly all game. That’s not a game you lose in such spectacular fashion, and it certainly is not reflective of a team who has postseason hopes that extend beyond the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Teams lose bad games all the time early in the season, but after having a questionable performance against Louisville, some bumps against UMBC and now this, a frightful pattern is developing.
- Someone on the team needs to talk some sense into Carlos Morris. While I like his confidence, he has no idea when to pull back, pull up or give it up. His shot selection continues to be a detriment to the offense and you could even see Andre Hollins getting frustrated with him. Will he listen? We’ll see.
- Elliott Eliason was T’d up early in the second half for talking back to a ref, which isn’t surprising, considering Eliason’s history of complaining about calls. Admittedly, it was a weak T, but a senior player has no reason to find himself anywhere near a technical foul situation. Especially on the road. Especially in a tight game.
- 56% from the free throw line. Again. Utter madness.
- Why Nate Mason didn’t see much of the court in the second half is beyond me. The team was too far gone for him to be a silver bullet, but he certainly would have made it interesting. Pitino said something about letting his seniors get it done, but really only sidestepped the answer after the game.
- In terms of filling in for McNeil, Morris had the majority of minutes, Charles Buggs saw 12 minutes of action, and Pitino actually ran a 3-guard set for a little while. Honestly, Buggs could have probably done with more minutes, especially with Morris turning things to his own personal open gym.
- Dre2x combined to go 5-16 from the field with 9 TOs and 7 fouls. Hard to win when your two best players aren’t getting it done. It was an uncharacteristic no-show for Hollins, who had serious trouble holding onto the ball.