Four things learned: Abysmal free throw shooting doomed U vs. Badgers

Dawson Garcia and Braeden Carrington sat dejected at the postgame news conference Tuesday night after the Gophers' 61-59 loss against Wisconsin. There likely won't be another chance to beat their rival this year.

For the first time since the 2020-21 season, the Gophers play the Badgers once during the regular season. They could possibly meet again in a Big Ten tournament border battle at Target Center in March.

The sting of letting a late lead slip away Tuesday in a seventh straight loss to the Badgers just might sit with Gophers coach Ben Johnson's team for a bit. Missed free throws. Miscues. Errant shots. Just one of those areas cleaned up down the stretch could've been the difference.

"I think we're more than right there," Johnson said. "We got to do our job and stamp it and finish it."

Here are four things learned from the U's fourth straight loss Tuesday:

Free throw woes

Poor free throw shooting was bound to cost the Gophers at least one victory this Big Ten season. You could make a case that it was Tuesday night.

The Gophers are last in Big Ten play in foul shooting at 60.7% through eight games this season.

In the last four games, the Gophers are an abysmal 57.5% from the foul line (50-for-87). Not surprisingly, they've lost all four games, including after shooting 5-for-13 against the Badgers.

In comparison, the Big Ten-leading Badgers are shooting 83.8% on free throws in their last five games, including 8-for-10 on Tuesday.

"As a group it's never on one person," Johnson said. "I just told them the amount of free throws that we shoot we just have to be confident at the line now. That's the next step."

After going 9-for-12 from the foul line in Thursday's 76-66 loss at Michigan State, Garcia missed his only attempt Tuesday with under a minute to play.

Pharrel Payne, who was battling back issues, made three free throws while attempting a team-high six foul shots against the Badgers. But Payne didn't take any in the second half.

The Gophers were 2-for-7 at the line in the second half with Garcia, Carrington and Parker Fox going 1-for-5 until the waning seconds. That's when Mike Mitchell Jr. missed the second free throw on purpose to try for the potential game-tying jumper to end regulation.

Outplayed in the paint

The Gophers started their big frontcourt for the second straight game Tuesday, but Garcia and Payne came up short in helping to deliver a victory.

It doesn't fall completely on their shoulders to carry the load offensively, but they'll need to do better against the top frontcourts in the Big Ten. Payne and Garcia combined for 19 points and 10 rebounds, but they shot 7-for-20 from the field.

Payne, who was obviously not 100% healthy, got Badgers center Steven Crowl in foul trouble. Garcia also helped hold Crowl to just seven points on 3-for-8 shooting.

Wisconsin's Tyler Wahl, though, was the best post player on the court. The 6-9 Lakeville native finished with 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting in maybe his last game against his home state Big Ten team.

Wahl drew a foul on Garcia after boxing out with under a minute to play. His two free throws made it 61-58 with five seconds left. He also came up with a deflection on a rebound after Mitchell missed a jumper to tie it as time expired.

Johnson said after the game that forward Joshua Ola-Joseph was limited to five minutes because the Gophers had to go bigger against the Badgers. Ola-Joseph saw his 42-game starting streak snapped.

Live or die from three

What will happen if the Gophers actually take the lead at halftime in a Big Ten game this season? It hasn't happened yet.

Part of the problem with slow starts in the first half is a lack of offense. Long scoring droughts appear to be caused by an overreliance on jump shots. On Tuesday, the Gophers trailed 34-24 at halftime after shooting just 3-for-14 from three in the first half.

No surprise that the Badgers saw their double-digit lead vanish when Johnson's team turned things around by going 7-for-10 from beyond the arc in the second half.

Figuring out the balance with playing inside and out could unlock a more efficient offense moving forward.

Hawkins back

Elijah Hawkins had never played in the Border Battle, but he wasn't about to miss Tuesday's rivalry game with so much on the line.

The 5-11 junior returned after missing last week's loss at Michigan State with a right ankle injury. He showed no signs of being slowed down with a team-high 16 points, nine assists and five rebounds in 37 minutes.

Hawkins scored 13 points in the second half, including 11 points during a 22-11 run that saw the Gophers hit six straight three-pointers. One of his long bombs was from Duluth to beat the shot clock buzzer off the glass.

One of Hawkins' four turnovers led to a Wisconsin dunk from A.J. Storr in crunch time, but the Gophers likely would've been blown out with Hawkins sidelined again.

The other Gophers guards, Mitchell, Cam Christie and Carrington, combined for just 16 points on 5-for-21 shooting in the game. In comparison, Wisconsin's backcourt of Storr and Max Klesmit combined for 26 points.