Monday, November 25, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: Sloppy play late derails Gophers comeback bid against No. 8 Syracuse

Minnesota 67, No. 8 Syracuse 75

Under first year head coach Richard Pitino, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have jumped out to a 5-0 start; however, against No. 8 Syracuse, the Gophers faced by far their toughest test yet in the quarterfinal round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational. 

Syracuse, meanwhile, headed into tonight's game with a perfect mark of its own (4-0), having most recently played a week ago against St. Francis (NY), only a 6-point victory in the Carrier Dome. 

Facing the Orangemen's 2-3 zone, Andre and Austin Hollins would need to make shots from the outside; coming into tonight's game, they had shot 35 percent and 36 percent from downtown, respectively. 

Things didn't look good for the Gophers early, as Syracuse jumped out to a 7-0 lead in just over a minute of play. However, the Gophers rallied, eventually taking a 15-14 lead at the 13:03 mark. Additionally, Andre Hollins buried his first two triples of the game, a good sign for a team looking to attack Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone. 

Despite SU's top 10 ranking, the Gophers appeared equal to the challenge, as both teams combined to play an exciting first half that ended with the Orangemen taking a 39-36 lead into the locker room. The Gophers shot 6-for-11 from three in the first half (54.5 percent) and held SU to just 38.2 percent from the field. 

However, 12 turnovers in the first half alone --three from each Hollins-- didn't allow the Gophers to pull ahead. 

On the other hand, SU sophomore G Trevor Cooney attempted eight of his team's nine first half 3-point attempts, converting four of them. Minnesota would have to do a better job on Cooney in the second half in order to come away with a big non-conference upset win. 

Even more importantly, the Gophers would have to do a better job on the glass. In the first half, the Orangemen rebounded 10 of their 21 misses, good for an impressive offensive rebounding percentage of 47.6 percent. 

Unfortunately for Pitino, C Elliott Eliason went into the half with two fouls; he would need to avoid a quick 4th in the second half if the Gophers were going to prevent SU from continuing their domination of the boards on the offensive end. 
SU started the first half going right back to Cooney, who buried an open three from the top of the key, his fifth triple of the game. To make matters worse, Eliason picked up his third foul at the 18:44 mark of the second half, immediately sending him to the bench.

Following a 9-2 SU run to start the second half, the Gophers found themselves down 10 in the blink of an eye. Without Eliason, the Gophers were at a significant disadvantage in the paint on both ends of the floor. 

The run stretched to 13-2, but Pitino finally decided to put Eliason back in the game, even with three fouls and over 15 minutes to play. Eliason quickly assisted on a Joey King layup, justifying Pitino's minor gamble (minor because the game was getting away from UM). 

Down by double digits, the Gophers faced a tall order in its attempt to claw back into the game against the zone. But, after a pair of big threes from Malik Smith, the Gophers were down just four at the 11:47 mark. 

This encouraging development for the Gophers was quickly undercut by Eliason picking up his fourth foul, sending him to the bench again with 10:49 to play. Syracuse built their double digit lead with Eliason on the bench earlier in the half: would they be able to do it again?

Minnesota failed to score on the interior on several occasions, plays which Eliason likely would have converted; even so, the Gophers continued to hang around, down four with just under six minutes to play. 

Eliason returned to the floor with 5:07 to play and Minnesota down 67-61; after going down 12 earlier, it seemed like the Gophers would never be in this position, but there they stood. 

The Gophers cut the deficit to two late, but then threw the ball away following an SU turnover. Minnesota then turned it over on the next two possessions as well, effectively stopping the comeback bid then and there. 

A Minnesota flagrant foul as SU attempted to score in transition allowed the Orange to extend the lead to eight. 

The Gophers fought hard, but sloppy play late and Syracuse's big run to start the second half with Eliason on the bench did them in. 

With the loss, the Gophers fell to 5-1 on the season. Syracuse advances to the semifinal round, where they will meet California tomorrow. 

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