When a road team plays in a hostile environment like Assembly Hall in Bloomington, the crowd trounces on the first sight of blood. With a clash of two top 10 opponents for the first time since 2000, the birthplace of basketball was electric.
The audience anticipated a spark. It waited for a key turnover by the eight-ranked Gophers or a run of any kind for Indiana. Yet, it was a coaching decision that affected the outcome on Saturday.
Tubby Smith gave way to his substitutes in the middle of the first half, and the team began to crumble. For the second straight game, the Minnesota second string played careless and flat when the lineup hit the floor. The attendance, dressed in crimson, was roaring after the coaching staff made that mistake.
Tom Crean and his fifth-ranked team made the best of its Big Ten home opener, beating Minnesota 88-81. All 10 starters scored in double-digits, including Mbakwe’s second consecutive double-double.
The move to the bench sparked a 22-5 run for the Hoosiers, but the Gophers (15-2, 3-1) rallied late in the game to make it interesting.
The coaching staff stuck with the starting rotation in the second half, and it proved key as Minnesota scored 52 points in the half. It was the third straight game in which the squad scored 50-plus points in the second half.
The team cut the lead to three with only 19.5 seconds to go, but it was too late. Even when Jordan Hulls missed two free throws, it was Indiana who capitalized. Cody Zeller outmanned Mbakwe on the rebound, forcing the senior to the ground. Hulls gobbled up the loose ball, putting the stamp on Minnesota’s first loss since November.
Indiana (15-1, 3-0) made two-thirds of its buckets and forced 12 turnovers in the opening half. Victor Oladipo went 6-of-6 in the half and finished with 20 points overall. He also showed a few lapse defensively. The junior was overly aggressive in guarding the three-point shot, and fouled the Gophers on three separate occasions on long distance attempts.
The Gophers were on the opposite end of a 50-point half for the first time all season. The 52-point first half by Indiana was the largest point total in a half for a Minnesota opponent this season.
Minnesota was led offensively by Andre Hollins. The sophomore point guard finished with a game high 25 points, including five three pointers. He also stole the ball four times but added five turnovers.
Overall, the Gophers made 11 threes, including two from backup Maverick Ahanmisi.
After winning 11 straight for the first time since the 1970s, Minnesota will have to regroup quickly. The team faces Michigan this Thursday at Williams Arena. The Wolverines will be ranked No. 1 if the they can take care of business tomorrow against Ohio State.
Saturday’s defeat was the highest scoring total for the combined two squads. Entering Saturday, both teams were ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. They combined to shoot 45 percent overall, including 40 percent from beyond the arc.
The pace of the game was up-tempo. The physicality of both lineups were negated by the fierce pace. At one moment in the first half, freshman Yogi Ferrell blocked Rodney Williams, took the loose ball, and sprinted the whole floor for the lay-in. He finished with 13 points and eight assists.