On the road in the Big Ten, where there are limited opportunities to win, road teams must take advantage of opportunities within games to escape with a victory. Despite playing their best 30 minutes of basketball in West Lafayette in a decade, in the end, the Gophers let a rare road victory slip away.
Behind hot shooting from Joey King and better than expected offensive rebounding, Minnesota built an 11 point lead, and despite some multiple runs by Purdue early in the second half, maintained a comfortable lead. The runs were going to come, and despite some shaky moments, the Gophers were able to maintain their composure, until seemingly remembering that they haven’t won in West Lafayette since 2005, and then played like a team that no longer expected to win.
Minnesota hadn’t played in a truly hostile environment this season. Madison Square Garden, while more or less a home game for St. John’s, was still a half-full, mostly sleepy NBA arena. Wake Forest hasn’t enjoyed much of a home court advantage in a few seasons. Purdue though, despite struggling the last few seasons, still have fans that are capable of influencing the outcome of a game. For the first 30 minutes, when the Gophers were playing well, kept the crowd quiet. But because the lead never grew larger than a few possessions, the crowd was only a few mistakes away from making their presence known. Those mistakes began at the under eight minute time out in the second half, and never really stopped. Two missed jumpers, two turnovers, and three straight well-executed Purdue possessions erased Minnesota’s lead. With the game tied at 58 with five minutes left, and a fully engaged crowd, the Gophers performed like a team overwhelmed by their predicament. In the game’s closing moments, Minnesota shot 2-5 and committed three turnovers. Down the stretch, Purdue committed only one turnover while making four of their final shots.
While it would be easy to assume that the final five minutes decided the outcome, Minnesota’s inability to build a more significant lead ultimately doomed them to defeat. Up by 13 late in the second half, they managed only four points in their final nine possessions of the first half. Purdue scored only six points over the same stretch. Better execution in the vital closing minutes of the half would have given the Gophers more margin for error.
Minnesota has lost three games this season, and in all three, they have struggled scoring near the rim. The Gophers made only 40% of their two-point field goal attempts against the Boilermakers. Purdue’s front-line is formidable, and it isn’t surprising that two point field goals would be difficult to find in a mostly half-court. And the half-court is where most of those shots came from. Purdue committed turnovers on only 18.5% of possession, resulting in only six Gopher points which was the best ball security by a Gopher opponent this season.
The Big Ten season is long, and it is important to remember that a lot can happen in the next 17 games over the next two months. However, it must be said that the Gophers made their mission of 10 Big Ten wins more difficult that it otherwise needed to be. While eight Big Ten home wins is perfectly reasonable, finding two wins on the road will be difficult. They play the games for a reason, and just as the Gophers lost a game they were supposed to win, winning a game or two they are supposed lose could change everything for the better.