MADISON, WIS. – Minnesota’s players already knew they would get at least the No.4 seed in the Big Ten tournament after Maryland beat Michigan State on Saturday.
They were hoping for a statement win to earn second place in the conference Sunday at Wisconsin.
The Gophers instead got humbled 66-49 against the Badgers at the Kohl Center, so now the focus is to win the conference tournament.
“We’re proud of that achievement,” said junior Nate Mason about the program’s highest league finish since winning the Big Ten title in 1996-97. “But that’s over. We know we’re top-four now and our focus is to win the whole Big Ten tournament. So we got to get back and see how we messed up in this game and learn from it.”
Gophers coach Richard Pitino hadn’t seen his team play with such lack of confidence offensively and poor awareness defensively in a long time. So he was blunt when saying Minnesota wouldn’t last long in the conference tourney with a repeat performance like Sunday.
“They got themselves a double-bye when a lot of people picked us toward the bottom,” Pitino said. “They have a lot to be proud of. But they also have to understand, the way we played tonight it will be quick exit in the Big Ten tournament.”
The Gophers, who ranked first in the Big Ten in three-point shooting defense (31.4 percent), allowed Wisconsin to shoot 10-for-18 (55.6 percent) from deep Sunday, including 8-for-10 in the second half. The Badgers entered the game ranked 12th in the conference in three-point shooting percentage (32.8).
Wisconsin held Minnesota to just 23.3 percent (7-for-30) shooting in the second half, including 1-for-6 from three-point range. Akeem Springs is the top three-point shooter for the Gophers, but he went scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting from the field, including 0-for-4 from long distance.
Nate Mason had 17 points, but he went 1-for-5 from three and had zero assists in 33 minutes. Amir Coffey scored 13 points on just 3-for-9 shooting from inside the arc, but he hit two threes and had four assists.
Wisconsin’s 18-2 run midway through the second half was the turning point in the game.
“We kind of got stagnant, stopped moving (the ball) side to side and (went) 1-on-1,” Coffey said. “We couldn’t do that as you can see. That stretch killed us.”
Bracket announced: The Gophers will play 1:30 Friday in the Big Ten tournament against the winner of No. 5 seed Michigan State or the winner of No. 12 Nebraska vs. No. 13 Penn State.
The Spartans swept Minnesota in the regular season, including by 18 points in East Lansing.
Minnesota’s highest seed in the conference tournament was No. 5 in 2005. The U’s best finish was runner-up to Ohio State after reaching the school’s only championship game in 2009.
Happ trapped: In the last meeting with Wisconsin, Ethan Happ had 28 points in a 78-76 overtime loss Jan. 21 at Williams Arena. The Badgers suffered five losses in the previous six games with opponents double teaming Happ. Minnesota held the 6-foot-10 sophomore to nine points on 4-for-12 shooting and forced four turnovers. Happ still finished with 13 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 30 minutes, but his senior teammates carried Wisconsin’s offense.
On Senior Night, Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter combined for 41 points on 15-for-31 shooting from the field.
Mason top scorer: Mason finished the regular season as Minnesota’s leading scorer with 15.5 points per game overall. His 17.2 points per game in the Big Ten is the program’s highest scoring average in league play since Vincent Grier’s 18.0 points in 2004-05. Grier was the last Gophers player to earn All-Big Ten first team honors. Mason appears headed for that honor when the all-league teams are announced Monday night.
Murphy top rebounder: Sophomore Jordan Murphy saw his hot streak end Sunday with just six points and five rebounds in 14 minutes. Murphy had been averaging 17.3 points and 13.7 rebounds in the previous seven games, which included six double-doubles. Murphy still ended the regular season averaging 11.6 points and a team-high 9.4 rebounds in Big Ten play.
The 6-foot-6 forward’s rebounding average ranked second in the Big Ten in league games. That was the program’s highest since Mbakwe led the Big Ten at 9.8 rebounds per game in 2012-13. Mbakwe was named All-Big Ten second team by media. Murphy could be picked all-league second or third team Monday.
Lynch top defender: The Gophers couldn’t stop Wisconsin’s three-point shooting barrage in the second half Sunday, but Reggie Lynch made it tough for anyone to score in the paint – as usual. The 6-foot-10 junior had his 10th game this season with at least five blocks. He finished the regular season as the Big Ten’s shot blocking champion with 3.7 per game. The Edina native is the first Gophers player to lead the league in blocks since Randy Breuer in 1982-83. Lynch’s 106 blocks are the most in the Big Ten since Ohio State’s Ken Johnson had 125 in 2000-01, which is third all-time in conference history.
Minnesota tied Ohio State's 2006-07 team (Greg Oden and company) for the Big Ten season blocks record at 218. Lynch is a favorite to win the program’s first Big Ten defensive player of the year honor since Travarus Bennett in 2002.