Gophers fizzle in home finale, a 70-58 loss to Indiana

A .500 record might not sound like much.

But to the Gophers men’s basketball program, that mark in Big Ten play is not considered mediocre. Minnesota has accumulated only six seasons with a .500-or-better record in conference games across the past 25 years.

Head coach Ben Johnson reminded his players this week about a chance to add another notch in a positive direction this year.

“That’s the challenge,” Johnson told reporters on Tuesday. “I think our guys are hungry. They want to be able to start moving the needle with what they are doing.”

The needle went backward Wednesday as 5.5-point underdog Indiana cruised to a 70-58 win over Minnesota at Williams Arena. Minnesota (18-12, 9-10 Big Ten) will now need to win at Northwestern to reach .500 in the regular season.

Johnson said the poor game came as a surprise because the team had two good days of preparation.

“Sometimes you can normally have a little bit of an inkling or a feel if you are going to be flat or just not have it,” Johnson said. “I definitely didn’t have that coming into (Wednesday), so we’ve got to figure it out because that is a mentality thing. 100 percent. It’s, ‘Are you ready to compete from the jump?’ For whatever reason, I just felt like they brought the fight to us.”

The loss to the Hoosiers stings further because it came in the U’s final game at The Barn this season, and it snapped a five-game home winning streak.

“It’s weird because this is the last game at The Barn at home, and you would think that we would be fired up,” said Parker Fox, who led the U with 14 points. “I can’t put an exact thing on it. Jack Wilson made a joke at the end of the bench. He said there was some weird juju in the air.”

Indiana big man Kel’el Ware had a game-high 26 points and 11 rebounds. The Hoosiers had 48-32 advantage in points in the paint.

Indiana (17-13, 9-10) has won three straight. Amid a down year for the Hoosiers, the Indianapolis Star reported hours before tipoff that Mike Woodson would be retained as head coach for next season.

Minnesota, which played without Braeden Carrington (concussion) for a second straight game, looked flat with a six-man rotation that didn’t include backup guards. All three guards — Elijah Hawkins, Mike Mitchell Jr. and Cam Christie — played at least 38 minutes and combined to shoot 8 for 33.

Minnesota guards also shot poorly in the 74-62 loss at Indiana on Jan. 12. As a team, the Gophers were abysmal from 3-point range, making only 5 of 26 (19 percent).

To close the first half, Minnesota amassed empty possessions and managed only one basket in the final eight minutes. Indiana went on a 12-2 run to take a 30-25 lead at the break. The slow moving carried over to the second half, which has usually been a time for the U to go on a run.

Pharrel Payne fell to the court a few times in the first half and moved gingerly near the bench. He then got stimulation on a back injury that has bothered him at times this season. But he played only six minutes in the second half.

Before the game, the Gophers were seventh in the Big Ten standings, but fell below Michigan State and Indiana after Wednesday’s games.

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