Minnesota lost to Illinois 59-51 at the State Farm Center. With the loss, the Gophers are now 5-6 in Big Ten play and 11-10 overall. Daniel Oturu led all scorers with 20 points.
The Gophers had an effective field goal percentage of 35% in this case. That is the reason for the loss. In other games, I would say the reason they lost was because of some mental lapse, or the other team playing better, or a problem with coaching. In this game they lost because the team could not make wide open layups. No disrespect to Illinois, but the Gophers should have won this game by double digits with the number of open looks they got from both within 3 feet and from the perimeter. Minnesota’s defensive effort was exactly what was needed for a road victory. Their offensive effort was exactly what was needed to drive most coaches insane.
From a coaching perspective, I am not sure what you do if your players simply cannot put the ball in the basket. 3/19 from distance is heinous. 19/60 from the field is beyond poor. I would credit Illinois’s defense, except that as mentioned previously the Gophers were getting lots of looks that they wanted throughout the night. They just missed them. Over and over again. Last night was an excellent chance to get not just a Quad 1 win, but a Quad 1 road win. Does this scuttle their chances of making the tournament? No, not yet. But we are now in deep bubble mode with no more margin for error.
Daniel Oturu once again outplayed another top big man in the conference. The sophomore had 20 points on 7/13 shootings and was 6/7 from the line. He also added eight rebounds, three blocks, and an assist and a steal. Unfortunately Oturu had four turnovers. The real unfortunate part is that he had no help on offense. It is clear (and a successful strategy in theory) that Minnesota wants to put four shooters around Oturu and let him go to work down low in one on one matchups. He has proven this season to be unguardable in that situation. Minor problem with that strategy is that the Gophers do not have four shooters to put around him. The backcourt combined to shoot 7/32 from the field, and just 2/12 from distance.
Marcus Carr is the most important player for Minnesota. He is not their best player, but he is the player that makes the rest of the offense go. With Gabe Kalscheur still in a shooting funk, and Payton Willis injured, Carr is the player who has the responsibility to be the second option. Yesterday, he forced some shots, but more importantly missed some easy good looks. As Brian Greenlee is not considered to be a worthy back-up point guard, Carr’s contribution becomes even more important. When that contribution is absent, the effect is noticeable.
Isaiah Ihnen played 16 minutes yesterday. He was just 1-5 from the field (not great!), but clearly far more comfortable on defense (great!). I do not expect his minutes to be a one off because the potential is obvious.
Tre Williams started for the injured Payton Willis. Like Ihnen, Williams is unafraid to launch his shot. This is a trait that I am thrilled about. I am less thrilled that only 2/9 went in and none of those from distance.
The Gophers only had 12 free throw attempts. On the bright side, they made 10 of them.
The magic number remains six.