Gophers offense fizzles in loss to Hoosiers in final home game

Going from last place in the Big Ten to having a bye in the first round of the conference tournament was a sign of progress for coach Ben Johnson's Gophers men's basketball program in his third year.

No matter what happened in the final two regular-season games, the Gophers could finish no lower than 10th place in the Big Ten. That would be their best finish since 2018-19.

With a top-five finish still up for grabs Wednesday, the Gophers couldn't overcome a dismal offensive performance in a 70-58 loss against Indiana that snapped a five-game home win streak in their final game this season at Williams Arena.

The Gophers (18-12, 9-10 Big Ten) were hoping for a double-bye in the first two rounds in the Big Ten tournament at Target Center next week, but they trailed at halftime for the 13th time in conference play Wednesday.

Parker Fox had a team-high 14 points on 5-for-5 field goals off the bench. Dawson Garcia had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Mike Mitchell Jr. finished with 13 points, but the Gophers shot 39% from the field, including 5-for-26 from three-point range in the loss. They also committed 18 turnovers.

After taking a five-point lead midway through the first half, the Gophers were outscored 10-0 by Indiana en route to a 30-25 halftime deficit. Both Garcia and Elijah Hawkins were scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting combined in the first half.

Cam Christie, who was named Big Ten freshman of the week Monday, converted a four-point play for the Gophers' first points on the night, but they were 2-for-12 from beyond the arc at the break. Christie finished with eight points on 2-for-13 shooting.

Similar to the 12-point loss in Bloomington on Jan. 12, the U struggled to contain Indiana's frontcourt with Kel'el Ware scoring 12 of his 26 points in the first half. The Hoosiers (17-13, 9-10) had 26 of their 30 first-half points in the paint.

Pharrel Payne led the Gophers with eight points in the first half, but he went to the bench grimacing after a hard fall less than a minute into the second half. The 6-9 sophomore has been dealing with back issues this entire season.

Garcia, who had a 29-point game at Illinois just last week, finally got his first basket of the game early in the second half. A window opened for the Gophers to take advantage when Ware and Malik Reneau both picked up their third fouls with over 16 minutes to play.

Indiana didn't flinch. The offensive woes continued for Johnson's team. After Parker Fox was called for a questionable charge, Garcia's turnover led to an uncontested layup by Ware that fueled another Hoosiers rally.

Frustrated fans watched the Gophers go down by 17 points after Mackenzie Mgbako and Ware combined to hit four three-pointers during a four-minute stretch.

Playing in his final home game Wednesday, Fox carried the U with eight straight points in the second half. The Mahtomedi native also provided the spark in last Sunday's 75-70 win against Penn State on Senior Day after his team trailed by 23 points in the first half.

The Gophers cut a 19-point deficit to 59-46 with five minutes left following consecutive threes from Mitchell and Christie, but they couldn't avoid a disappointing end to the home slate this season.

The Hoosiers, who shot 55% from the field and had 48 points in the paint, won their eighth straight game in the series dating back to the 2016-17 season. That was the last time the Gophers won more home games than their 16-4 record at the Barn in 2023-24, which included wins against Michigan State, Northwestern, Nebraska and Ohio State.

A Gophers victory Saturday at Northwestern could help them still finish with a single-digit seed in the Big Ten tournament, but an NCAA tournament bid only seems likely now with a championship run in their backyard.

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