INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tubby Smith knew exactly what No. 8 Minnesota needed to do to upset Indiana: Take care of the basketball and defend the 3-pointers.
They didn’t do either in the first half Saturday, and it cost them.
After digging themselves into a 23-point halftime deficit, the Golden Gophers charged back twice in the final 20 minutes, nearly erasing a 15-point deficit in the final 4½ minutes before falling 88-81 to the fifth-ranked Hoosiers.
“We didn’t do the things we needed to during the course of the game,” Smith said. “Obviously, 17 turnovers doesn’t help. We just didn’t defend like we had been especially the 3-pont shot. We did in the second half, but they were 7 of 11 (on 3s in the first half) and that really hurt us.”
The Golden Gophers’ 11-game winning streak came to an end with an odd twist. Both of their losses this season have come against teams ranked No. 5 at the time, Duke and Indiana. Those are also the only two teams to hold the No. 1 spot this season.
All five Minnesota starters finished in double figures, led by Andre Hollins with 25 points. Austin Hollins and Trevor Mbakwe each had 13 points, and Mbakwe finished with 10 rebounds for his 28th career double-double.
But one good half wasn’t good enough for Minnesota (15-2, 3-1 Big Ten).
“We’re disappointed we didn’t win the game because if we put together two halves, we have a chance to compete,” Smith said.
Among the Hoosiers, the consensus opinion was simple: This game never should have been this close.
And there was plenty for Indiana (15-2, 4-0) to critique.
Victor Oladipo scored 20 points and had six rebounds but fouled out after fouling a 3-point shooter for the third time in the game. Jordan Hulls knocked down four 3s, finished with 19 points and four rebounds but had two turnovers and missed three free throws during Minnesota’s closing run. Cody Zeller had 18 points, six rebounds and three blocks, and the Hoosiers vaunted bench went 0 for 8 from the field and finished with only three points.
On paper, it will go down as just another win. In the film room, it will look like something very different to the Hoosiers.
“A year ago, we’d have been ecstatic with that victory and I want them to enjoy it, but we have different expectation levels now,” coach Tom Crean said. “We have a lot of room for improvement. Where it takes the next step is when players understand they can play better, and I think they do.”
Indiana has now won six straight overall, 18 in a row at Assembly Hall and beat a Top 15 foe for the fifth time in 13 months as all five starters scored in double figures.
But the Hoosiers blamed themselves for allowing Minnesota to get back into the game.
“We had a good first half, but we’ve got to come out with the same energy in the second half,” Zeller said. “I thought the energy dropped off a little bit, but we’ll be all right. A win’s a win in this conference.”
Minnesota’s poor start –a half in which three Hoosiers scored 10 or more points and Indiana made seven 3s, forced 12 turnovers and had seven steals — proved too much for to overcome.
Hulls got the first of the two key runs started with Indiana’s first 3 of the game midway through the first half. Oladipo followed that with a steal and layup, and when the spurt ended with 5:54 left, Hulls and Oladipo had combined for 16 points in an 18-2 run that made it 34-17. The Hoosiers closed the first half on a 12-2 run, too, extending the margin to 52-29 at the half.
When Smith finally got some extended time to talk to his players, things changed.
“I thought we did the things to help us give ourselves a chance, didn’t embarrass ourselves by folding the tent and heading home,” Smith said of the second half. “We’ve got a very competitive group of guys and that’s what I expected from them in the second half.”
It didn’t take long to see a difference.
Joe Coleman opened the half with a three-point play, sending Minnesota on a 14-4 run that cut the deficit to 56-43.
Minnesota rallied again late, cutting Indiana’s 77-62 lead with 4:37 to go down to 84-81 when Andre Hollins made two free throws with 19 seconds left. The groans could be heard throughout Assembly Hall, especially when Hulls missed two free throws on the ensuing possession.
Had the Gophers gotten the rebound, they would have had a chance to tie the score.
Instead, Hulls grabbed the rebound, drew another foul and made two free throws to make it a two-possession game.
“I feel good, but I know there’s a lot of stuff we need to work on,” Oladipo said. “We’ve got to see what we did in the second half and figure out what we did wrong and correct it because we’ve got some really good teams coming up.”
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