WASHINGTON, D.C. (WCCO) — Falling behind by 16 points just 10 minutes into the game was clearly not part of the plan. The Gophers were very clearly a team trying to figure out on the fly how to play without starting 2 guard Akeem Springs, out for the rest of the year with a torn Achilles.
Dupree McBrayer and Nate Mason both played all 40 minutes of the game. Amir Coffey played 39. Awfully tough to win that way.
“It was difficult off of one day prep,” coach Richard Pitino said. “You feel so bad for Akeem and his injury, but from a team standpoint it’s very challenging, when you got less than 24 hours turnaround to get guys in the right spot. Some time off will help and we’ll be able to acclimate some other guys.”
The Gophers’ early struggles were largely due to the way they played on the defensive end. Players said after the game that was largely due to communications breakdowns. The fact that Springs is such a vocal leader in that department, his absence was absolutely felt. Now the Gophers will have to regroup and figure out how to win without him. A big week of practice coming up.
“Well, we’re a totally different team now, with Akeem out. Because Akeem was the starting 2 and whenever Nate needed a sub we’d put Dupree at the 1, we’d slide Akeem to the 2, so it’s a totally different team,” Pitino said. “I’m extremely disappointed with Akeem, that he has to go through that. But, we’re going have to start teaching some guys some different positions because that was a huge blow. He was a starter and playing a lot of minutes.”
“You’re going to face adversity in games, so you have to kind of figure it out, especially going into the tourney,” Coffey said. “You can’t lose. So you have to just see what you’re doing wrong and try to figure it out as soon as possible, because you’re obviously going to face adversity.”
“It’s a lot of stuff that we need to improve on, and that’s a good thing for us to learn before we got into the tournament instead of learning while we’re in the tournament,” Mason said. “Like I said, we’re going to have a great week of practice and be ready for the tournament.”
Maybe actually not the worst thing in the world for the Gophers to lose Saturday. Now they have an extra day to practice and prepare without Springs for the NCAA Tournament.
They find out their fate, their destination and their seed Sunday night. As for Pitino’s opinion on what seed they should get?
“I don’t know. I’m just excited that we’re in it. I’m fired up. As disappointing as it is for Akeem to go down, to see a guy that’s so important to us, for his career to end was emotional for everybody,” Pitino said.
“And then to come back, guys had to play a lot of minutes. I want these guys, when they get on the plane to flush all that, close the book on the Big Ten Tournament and get excited about the NCAA Tournament. So wherever they put us, whoever we play, wherever we play, we’re going to be really, really excited and we’re going to be proud of what we accomplished this year and excited about moving forward.”
Moving forward without Springs will present challenges. Moving McBrayer into the starting lineup basically leaves the Gophers without a reliable guard to come off the bench – a huge adjustment.
“Akeem was a key part of our rotation, obviously. He was a starter and a team captain, so he brought a lot of the table,” Jordan Murphy said. “But a lot of guys played a lot of minutes tonight, I mean today. [Dupree] and Amir I think played 35 plus minutes, so we got to figure out some type of rotation of course and got to figure out how to replace his energy, his three point shooting and all that. Guys just have to step up in different roles and be more versatile with what we run.”
“It’s very important. We got to get a whole new offense and just try to get used to it within this next week,” Mason said. “We got the talent, we got the players and got the versatility to do so. We go in to practice this week, get better and we’ll be fine.”
“We’re extremely confident. Early on in the year when we went on the five game losing streak, we didn’t lose our confidence then either and we made a eight game run,” Reggie Lynch said. “So losing one game this time of year doesn’t really affect us. It’ll help us because we’ll know what to sure up for the next game, but we’re not going to lose confidence, we’re going to be good going forward.”
If the Gophers can draw confidence from one thing it’s perhaps that after falling behind by 16 they did outscore Michigan the rest of the way, indicating that perhaps in those 30 minutes without Springs, they learned to live without him.