Minnesota unveiled new benches at Williams Arena, the only positive takeaway in a blowout loss to Illinois 76-53. Eric Curry and Jamison Battle led all Minnesota scorers with 10 points. With the loss, the Gophers drop to 10-2 on the season and 1-2 in conference play.
To get the obvious out of the way, tonight’s game was an example of what happens when a talented team plays a much less talented team, and that less talented team has an off night shooting the ball. Credit Illinois, who will be very good this season for having a solid gameplan to take away Minnesota’s primary offensive options. The Gophers had to settle for low percentage shots in the half court, or rushed shots in the secondary break, and made few of them. Other than a brief run in the first half to cut the lead to single digits, there were no signs of this game being competitive.
In the first half, Illinois regularly fed the ball to Kofi Cockburn, whose physicality could not be matched by any Gophers throughout the game. Minnesota by contrast could not find consistency on the offensive end, shooting just 13-31 from the field and 2-5 from deep. The free throw line was unkind as well (2-6). Minnesota opened the second half 3-16 from the field, including a missed break away layup that seemed like an apropos commentary of the night’s struggles. For the game, the Gophers had an effective field goal percentage of 38%.
The game was realistically over by the under 16, though the rules of basketball stipulate that both teams play out the second half.
It was no coincidence that Minnesota’s offensive fortunes improved whenever Cockburn left the floor. As I wrote in our round table, “One of the big differences is that the defenses are going to get a lot better, and I am excited to see (though currently pessimistic) to see how Minnesota reacts to a major step up in defensive pressure.” Part of why Illinois dominated is that Brad Underwood is good at coaching defense. The big reason though is that Kofi Cockburn is a cheat code at the college level. Having a rim protector that does not have to leave the paint is a massive advantage. Much of what Minnesota has done on offense relies on guard penetration into the paint, which Illinois could take away near completely when Cockburn was in.
The new benches look sweet. I spent about three minutes in the second half considering how much better the floor would look if they returned Goldy to the half court logo.
CBJ cleared the bench at around the 2:30 mark.