Coming into the game, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were already behind the 8-ball due to personnel issues, suiting up only six scholarship players, and relying on walk-ons to fill the backcourt. Despite a strong first half, Minnesota was unable to recreate the magic for the latter 20 minutes, and saw their short winning streak snapped in a 84-71 loss to the Illinois Fighting Illini, who completed the season sweep.
Even before the game started the Gophers were between a rock and a hard place, with essentially their entire backcourt suspended for the game due to violations of team rules. Kevin Dorsey, Dupree McBrayer and Nate Mason were in street clothes for the game for unspecified violations, which left the team without a scholarship guard. The fix? Give the keys to a combination of walk-ons Stephon Sharp and Darin Haugh, the latter with a total of 2 career minutes at the NCAA Division I level.
Without a realistic option at point guard, Minnesota's problems were exacerbated as Illinois went on a run to start the second half, while the Gophers simply didn't have the personnel available to get back into the game. Jordan Murphy disappeared as well after scoring 17 points and looking unstoppable in the first half.
It was a frustrating game for multiple reasons. First and foremost the suspension of the team's entire backcourt essentially lost the game for the team before the game even started. And what scant momentum they'd realized was erased. It was also frustrating to see the team handle Illinois for the first 20 minutes, but then become completely exposed in the second. Stephon Sharp was put in a tough spot, but the team didn't do itself any favors down the stretch.
THE STAT: 17 Minnesota turnovers led to 20 points for Illinois. Sharp and Murphy had 13 of them.
TURNING POINT: Despite an 8-point deficit at halftime, the Illini came out firing in the second half and never looked back, racing out to lead less than 5 minutes into the half and never relinquishing it.
NOTABLE: Jordan Murphy looked borderline unstoppable in the first half, with 17 points and 7 boards. The Illini figured him out in the second half, however, holding him to just 5 points, though he did rack up a double-double. Despite Sharp pitching in with an unexpected 19 points Minnesota couldn't stop the bleeding or the Illini attack.
UP NEXT: The Gophers host the hated Badgers in their only meeting of the year.