Gophers coach Richard Pitino was so disgusted with his team’s performance over the weekend in blowing a late lead against Iowa, he decided for the first time this season not to watch the game film the next day.
Instead, Pitino thought he would limit the embarrassment of his players seeing those mistakes again.
Playing sports psychologist didn’t work, though.
One of the most emotional losses of the year carried over to another disappointing finish Wednesday night in Minnesota’s 68-56 loss to Indiana in front of an announced 9,686 at Williams Arena.
The Gophers (12-13, 6-9 Big Ten) have lost three straight, but they’re still clinging to hope they can make a run similar to last season to get back into the NCAA tournament mix.
“Clearly we’re frustrated,” Pitino said. “We just have to keep chipping away, grinding away and believing in ourselves.”
Only one team left the Barn on Wednesday with a realistic chance at still getting into the Big Dance.
All of the grinding in the second half came from the Hoosiers (17-9, 7-8), who ended the game on a 17-6 run. Freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis led Indiana with 27 points and 16 rebounds, both career highs.
There was almost a sense of quit in Pitino’s team when it failed to score for the last 2 minutes and 15 seconds of the game. Missed shots snowballed into lackluster defense as well down the stretch, causing many fans to lose interest and leave early.
Junior guard Payton Willis claimed the Gophers are still playing for something.
“We win five in a row and we’re back in the mix,” said Willis, who had 12 points. “We’re not going to sink our heads and pout about it.”
But it was a losing battle trying to match the Hoosiers physically in the paint Wednesday.
Jackson-Davis outplayed Minnesota’s star big man Daniel Oturu while scoring 15 of his team’s 17 points during a stretch in the second half when the Gophers lost control.
Oturu, who finished with just 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting and 14 rebounds, was called for an offensive foul trying to back down Jackson-Davis to no avail with five minutes to play. The 6-9 former McDonald’s All-America then followed on the next possession with a jumper to put Indiana ahead 57-51.
Marcus Carr and Oturu were limited offensively on a night when Minnesota needed its two best players to come up with a bounce-back performance after Sunday’s 58-55 loss to the Hawkeyes.
That night, Carr had his lowest-scoring game (10 points) at home in Big Ten play this season. Oturu missed the first of two free throws to potentially tie the score against Iowa with 3.5 seconds left.
Missed free throws continued to haunt the Gophers on Wednesday. They were just 10-for-19 from the foul line, including 7-for-12 in the second half.
Alihan Demir’s layup with 2:15 left cut the deficit to 60-56, but the Hoosiers outscored Minnesota 8-0 the rest of the way. They shot 16-for-22 on free throws, including six straight late in the game.
Former Armstrong standout Race Thompson, the son of U football legend Darrell Thompson, gave the Hoosiers a huge lift off the bench. He finished with nine points and 10 rebounds.
The Hoosiers fell to the bottom of the Big Ten standings after four straight losses from late January until last week. They entered Wednesday just 1-6 in road games, with their only win at Nebraska, but ESPN’s Joe Lunardi put them in his “First Four In” after winning at Minnesota.
Meanwhile, the Gophers are getting further away from the bubble. They have to figure out how to generate more offense to start a winning streak Sunday at Northwestern. They shot just 26.7% in the second half against Indiana.
“That’s a blow,” Pitino said. “I always thought you needed to win five of seven, so you dug yourself a hole. Any time you lose in this league at home, it’s a problem. Because it’s really hard to win on the road. We just have to narrow that focus.”