Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy spent the end of the Gophers men’s basketball team’s 23-point loss to Northwestern on the bench, each having fouled out. The two All-Big Ten players stared at the court with glum looks as teammates tried to finish the game heavily undermanned.
Already down two starters before the game, the Gophers were missing their top four players by the time it was all over.
“We definitely know we should be on the court,” Murphy said. “We feel guilty about it. We know what we got to do.”
The Gophers’ outlook already looked bleak with center Reggie Lynch suspended indefinitely and guard Amir Coffey injured. Mason and Murphy compounded the team’s problems Wednesday by picking the worst time to struggle in the same game — letting frustration lead first to foul trouble and then the bench.
The Gophers need their two captains on the floor and playing to their potential and beyond to have a chance to remain competitive in the Big Ten this season, starting Saturday vs. No. 5 Purdue at Williams Arena.
“We have to be smarter, especially on the defensive end,” Mason said. “Play with our heads more than anything. Just know that we can’t get into foul trouble like that. It hurts the team, especially Murph. He’s way too valuable for the team.”
Murphy’s production has dropped in Big Ten play, from 19.9 points on 59 percent shooting to 14.2 points on 35.7 percent shooting. Lynch’s absence as a scoring, rebounding and defensive presence has put more pressure on Murphy.
“I think we miss Reggie on the court,” he said. “Honestly, he helped do so much for us.”
Murphy fouled out Wednesday by hacking Aaron Falzon on the arm on the perimeter with 3:13 left in the game. With only eight points and two rebounds, it ended his run of 17 consecutive double-doubles to start the season, which tied the NCAA record set by Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan from 1996-97.
Murphy averaged 18.9 points and 12.7 rebounds entering Wednesday, but he played only 16 minutes against the Wildcats because of foul trouble and finished with his fewest points since scoring six in a March 5 regular-season ending loss at Wisconsin last year, and his fewest rebounds since grabbing just one in a Jan. 21 home loss to the Badgers.
The 6-foot-7 junior forward had recorded double-doubles in 24 of his last 28 games dating back to last season.
“I got to be smarter personally and make sure that I’m not playing with my hands as often,” Murphy said. “I got to make sure I’m on help side [defense], but not overhelping too much. That way the rotation won’t be as long to get back to my man.”
Mason rarely loses his composure, but he picked up his third technical foul this season Wednesday. In the Alabama victory Nov. 25 in New York, the senior point guard was jawing at Crimson Tide players and received back-to-back technical fouls before being ejected. Mason was complaining a defensive foul to referees against Northwestern when he was T’d up for his fifth foul with 1:20 left.
Mason, who had been averaging 21 points and six assists in the Big Ten, finished the game with only nine points on 2-for-10 shooting, five assists and four turnovers in 26 minutes. That ended his 10-game streak of scoring in double figures this season.
Mason knows nights like that can’t happen again. The Gophers need even more production and leadership from their top players during a tough time.
“I just let the refs get to me,” Mason said. “It was just a frustration game. I’m over it. Coach has been doing a good job of keeping us motivated and keeping our head high. That’s the key just keeping the team motivated and keeping the young guys motivated to keep pushing, especially for this season.”
Gophers men’s basketball
11 a.m. Saturday vs. No. 5 Purdue (ESPN2)