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Gophers can’t keep up with Illini in a 105-97 loss

The Gophers and Illinois played a high-octane game Wednesday, fueled by hot shooting on both ends. But the No. 13 Illini found another gear while Minnesota ran out of gas late in a 105-97 loss at State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill.

Coming off their season-low 55-point performance against Nebraska, Minnesota put up its highest point total in a Big Ten game this season.

Both teams shot over 60 percent from the field, and each scored roughly 20 points more than season averages. They exchanged the lead 20 times, but Illinois (21-7, 12-5), an 11.5-point favorite, didn’t trail in the final 14 minutes.

Gophers coach Ben Johnson was looking for a response coming out of the 73-55 dud against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He got it.

“I really loved the fight,” Johnson said postgame on KFAN-AM. “I thought our guys competed for 40 minutes. … I got zero complaints there. We knew to beat this team, or to be in the game, we had to score. So 97 is what it is. But I’m just most proud of the battle, the fight and the perseverance on the road against a really, really good team.”

Illinois big man Dain Dainja, who is listed at 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, was a force at times down low. He stole a rebound from Parker Fox, scored and puffed up his chest to Dawson Garica. Later Dainja, who attended Park Center High School, hit a hook shot over Pharrel Payne, and Payne threw up his hands in disbelief. Dainja contributed 11 points and six rebounds.

Terrance Shannon, who is second in the Big Ten at 21.6 points per game, had 29 points for the Illini. Marcus Domask added 22 and Coleman Hawkins 20.

“They got a bunch of guys that can really score it,” Johnson said on the radio. “They are a team — you are not going to keep them in the 60s, probably not going to keep them in the 70s.”

Garcia matched Shannon with 29 points. Cam Christie had 23, while all five Gophers starters were in double figures.

“Give them a lot of credit,” Illini coach Brad Underwood said on Big Ten Network. “Christie, I mean, that dude is terrific. They busted us in the first half, but then I felt like we wore them down a little bit in the second half.”

Christie’s silky jumpers were falling in the first half. The true freshman from Arlington Heights, Ill., made four 3-pointers and led all scorers with 17 points. The U trailed only 48-45 at the break.

But with the loss, Minnesota (17-11, 8-9 Big Ten) fell to 1-7 in Quad 1 games, putting the NCAA tournament even further out of reach.

They haven’t been able to grasp much in Champaign over the decades. The Gophers fell to 3-30 in Champaign since 1979 and have lost seven straight overall to the Illini.

Minnesota has two Quad 3 home games against Penn State on Saturday and Indiana on Wednesday before a Quad 1 road game at Northwestern on March 9.

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