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Gophers offense keeps pace for a while, but can’t match No. 13 Illinois

It took Dan Monson midway through his first Big Ten season. It took Tubby Smith until the Big Ten tournament in his first season after a miracle shot. It took Richard Pitino early in his first Big Ten season.

Entering Wednesday, third-year Gophers coach Ben Johnson hadn't beaten his first ranked opponent — something his predecessors did much earlier in their tenures.

Dawson Garcia helped his team hang with the Big Ten's highest scoring offense for most of the night, but his 29 points weren't enough in a 105-97 loss Wednesday to No. 13 Illinois at State Farm Center in Champaign.

The Gophers (17-11, 8-9 Big Ten) fell to 0-15 against ranked opponents since Johnson arrived in 2021-22, but they also lost their 18th straight road game against ranked foes back to the Pitino era.

Minnesota's NCAA tournament resume lacks big wins but this team definitely passes the eye test with offensive talent. Besides Garcia, freshman Cam Christie had 17 of his 23 points and four of six three-pointers in the first half for the Gophers, who shot 60% from the field.

Shooting 61% in the game, the Illini (21-7, 12-5) seemed to have an answer for every big shot after leading 48-45 at halftime. There were 20 lead changes in the game, including 14 in the first half.

Terrence Shannon Jr. had a team-high 29 points for the Illini, who haven't lost to the Gophers at home since 2017. Marcus Domask and Coleman Hawkins also added 22 and 20 points for Illinois, respectively.

In the second half, Christie's fifth three-pointer pulled the Gophers within 72-70 with just under 11 minutes left, but Illinois would gain separation with a 19-9 run.

Hawkins hit 1-for-2 free throws to cap an 8-0 run that made it 91-79 around the five-minute mark that was too much to overcome for the Gophers, who kept battling.

After a season-low in points in a 73-55 loss Sunday at Nebraska, the Gophers pulled within 101-94 after Mitchell's four-point play with 48 seconds to go. No stops, though, down the stretch was their downfall.

In the highest scoring Big Ten game his season, Illinois outscored Minnesota 50-38 in points in the paint. The Gophers had the edge on the outside shooting 14-for-20 from three.

Unlike his first two seasons, Johnson assembled a roster to compete with anyone, but the Gophers rarely had opportunities to face ranked opponents after a soft non-league schedule and with a down year in the Big Ten. They only lost two games to ranked teams before Wednesday vs. No. 13 Wisconsin (71-69 at home) and No. 2 Purdue (84-76 on the road).

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.