Mark Coyle was able to multitask from his seat inside Williams Arena on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 20. The Gophers men’s basketball team didn’t give Minnesota's Athletics Director much reason to look up from working on his laptop and smartphone in the Barn.
Eighth-year head coach Richard Pitino and his team were uncompetitive and suffered the program’s third-worst defeat at home, 94-63, to fifth-ranked Illinois.
“We got to have a sense of pride,” Gophers senior captain Eric Curry said. “We can’t let people come in Williams Arena and just do us like that.”
The margin of defeat is only outdone by legendary UCLA coach John Wooden’s top-ranked 1968 team winning by 39 in 1968. The second-worst loss was also on Pitino’s watch, when No. 5 Purdue won be 34 in 2018. Saturday’s 31-point margin was tied by No. 5 Ohio State in 1992.
When Coyle retained Pitino as coach last March, Coyle’s statement stood out: “Richard understands my high expectation for our program, which is to compete at a championship level.”
Eleven months later, the Gophers are slipping off the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Pitino’s teams have made two NCAA Tournament appearances in seven seasons and were not projected to make the tournament a year ago, despite it being called off due to the pandemic.
With March Madness appearances coming in less than 30 percent of Pitino’s seasons, more Gophers fans are wondering if and/or when coaching candidates will be visible on Coyle’s screens.
On Saturday, Minnesota playing without guard Gabe Kalscheur (broken finger) and a limited Liam Robbins (ankle), but hung with the Illini until the end Saturday’s first half.
Jamal Mashburn Jr. attempted a floater to cut the Illini lead to single digits in the final minute, but center Kofi Cockburn swatted it away, and teammate Ayo Dosunmu raced coast-to-coast for a layup, with Marcus Carr backpedaling and falling over.
A bad sequence for Minnesota on network television, but it would get worse quickly. Tre Williams’ pass was intercepted and Illini guard Trent Frazier sank a buzzer-beating half-court heave to stake a 48-33 lead at the break.
Pitino’s hands were on his hips as his team slunk off to the locker room. The 11-2 run ended any tease Minnesota had with contending with the Big Ten’s second-place team.
The Illinois (16-5, 12-3 Big Ten) opened the second half on a 13-2 run and won comfortably over the Gophers (11-10, 6-10).
Dosunmu posted a triple double with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Cockburn led all scorers with 22.
Minnesota had 18 turnovers, which led to 24 Illinois points and a lot of those came easily. The Illini had 31 fast-break points to Minnesota’s 8.
Jamal Mashburn had 16 points to lead Minnesota, while Marcus Carr had 12.
Robbins is far from 100 percent with the ankle injury suffered in the win over Purdue 10 days ago. He was held scoreless Saturday, but chipped in four blocks.
The Illini also trounced the Gophers, 92-65, in the Big Ten opener in mid-December. Cockburn had a career high 33 points to go along with 13 rebounds.
Nebraska game back on
The Gophers’ postponed game against Nebraska has been rescheduled to 6 p.m. next Saturday in Lincoln, the Big Ten announced. This moves Minnesota’s game against Northwestern from Saturday to 8 p.m. Thursday at The Barn.
Minnesota’s game against the Cornhuskers was first slated for Jan 20, but wasn’t played due to an outbreak in Nebraska’s program.
Pitino had hoped the Gophers could not have a game during next week, in order to get Robbins healthy from his severely sprained ankle. Instead, Minnesota will get a mid-week chance to earn their first road win in their ninth game. Nebraska is in last place in the Big Ten.