Men’s basketball: Gophers crash hard in a 70-68 loss to Missouri

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The Gophers men’s basketball team was acing its first real test of the young season on Thursday.

Minnesota had built a 20-point lead over Missouri in the opening 30 minutes, but turnovers and stagnant offensive flow led the Gophers to failing the quiz in a 70-68 loss at Williams Arena.

Up 68-67, Minnesota guard Mike Mitchell fouled Sean East II with nine seconds left. The Tigers’ best scorer made the basket and one free throw to decide the game as Cam Christie’s jumper and Mitchell’s put-back were off the mark.

Fans at a Golden Dunkers boost event before the game were enthused by the complete roster this season and two blowout nonconference wins to start the season. The Barn were enthused by the Gophers fast start and and extended lead in the middle of the game, but some boos were issued at the end

Missouri (3-1) completely took over in the final 11 minutes. Minnesota (2-1) didn’t make a basket in the final six minutes as the ball stopped moving on offense.

“The way (Missouri plays), they almost force you to not a game of one-on-one, but you either got to set ball screens — you got to make a play,” head coach Ben Johnson said.

Minnesota had a six-point halftime lead and built multiple double-digit leads, including 59-39 with 11:25 remaining.

During one particular ugly sequence, the U had a 10-second backcourt violation, fouled on a 3-point shot, which led to three made free throws, air-balled its own trey and turned the ball over again on the next possession.

The Tigers were the Gophers’ stiffest test yet this season. Missouri finished fourth in the SEC and advanced in the NCAA Tournament last season, but sent two players to the NBA.

The Gophers took advantage of Missouri starting guard Caleb Grill losing his cool over a no call and talking back to the official twice.

The Iowa State transfer was hit with two technical fouls and was ejected with 13 minutes remaining, and Dawson Garcia hit all four free throws to extend it to a 15-point lead, 54-39.

The Gophers toggled between white-hot and ice-cold shooting in the first half.

Minnesota started on fire, making its opening five 3-pointers to open up a 19-12 lead. Minnesota then missed the next four treys, but made two more to re-extend the lead to 30-20. After that, the Gophers had a more than five-minute scoring drought as turnovers stacked up.

The U had seven scorers — each between six and four points — and spread-it-out approach led to a 38-32 lead at half. Minnesota shot 7 of 14 from deep in the half.

Pharrel Payne, who returned from an injury, was physical in the post for a put-back with 52 seconds remaining in half and then blocked a shot at the other end.

Last week, Minnesota beat Bethune-Cookman and Texas-San Antonio by 20 and 23 points, respectively.

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