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Gopher Lapses Bring End to Season

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March 17, 2017


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Talk about avoiding foul trouble is the easy part. Doing it is often difficult. Just ask the Gophers who lost their NCAA Tournament opening game yesterday in Milwaukee, 81-72 to Middle Tennessee State.

Gophers center Reggie Lynch and power forward Jordan Murphyhave experienced foul problems in games this year. Earlier this week Murphy was asked about avoiding fouls and staying on the court, not heading to the bench because of concern regarding a third, fourth or fifth infraction. “I think me and Reggie both have to do a better job of just feeling out the refs and what they’re going to call, and how they’re going to let us play,” Murphy said Tuesday.

The Gophers, a No. 5 seed, trailed only by six points at halftime yesterday against the No. 12 seed Blue Raiders. About four minutes into the second half, Murphy, Lynch, and Eric Curry—a key backup at power forward and center—were all in foul trouble. Lynch, who sat out the final eight minutes of the first half because of two fouls, picked up his third within the first two minutes of the second half. The foul came on an unnecessary reach in, and was Lynch’s second misguided foul of the game.

After leading 37-31 at halftime, the Blue Raiders, with Lynch on the bench, raced to a 52-38 lead by 15:31 of the second half.

Lynch came into the game second among NCAA players in blocks. He sent a message in the opening minutes that he was going to be a force inside and the Gophers got off to a 7-0 lead. But after awhile Lynch was benched because of fouls and his replacement, Curry, got lost on defense and allowed easy layups.

Richard Pitino & Jordan Murphy

Gophers coach Richard Pitino expressed disappointment with Lynch and the total defensive effort on his postgame radio show. “We didn’t have our defense the way it needed to be,” Pitino said on 1500 ESPN. “Reggie, we needed him in the game. He gets that third foul just inexplicably. So we ran out of gas, but we just were not guarding. … They’re a very good team. Give them credit.”

The Blue Raiders, a tourney bracket-buster favorite after opening game upsets the last two years against Michigan State and Minnesota, shot the ball impressively, surprised with their rebounding, and at times confounded the Gophers with a half court trap defense. The Blue Raiders also showed off a roster of players with length and multiple skills.

Former Gophers coach Jim Dutcher, who had picked Minnesota to win, was impressed with the Blue Raiders after the game. “They really execute in their half court offense,” Dutcher told Sports Headliners. “Once they got in rhythm, we couldn’t stop them.”

The foul trouble, Dutcher acknowledged, was a major factor in Minnesota’s loss. “When you take your shot blocker out, it makes a heck of a difference,” he said.

The fouls on Lynch, Murphy and Curry changed not only how the team performed, but how those three could play. Foul trouble impacts team assignments and substitutions. It changes aggressiveness, how players can guard and willingness to help teammates. Sometimes it impacts final game results, as was true yesterday.

It was a season of runs for the Gophers including both a five-game Big Ten losing streak and a stretch of eight league wins in a row. In the Big Ten tournament Minnesota got an opening win over Michigan State but a troubling defensive effort against Michigan resulted in an 84-77 loss.

Minnesota finishes with a 24-10 record and those numbers do shine compared with last year’s 8-23 total. With a rebound year and almost the entire roster of players returning next fall, Dutcher suggested that while yesterday’s loss “stings,” it needs to be kept in perspective.

Worth Noting

Pitino’s contract has multiple NCAA Tournament incentives. He earned $50,000 for having his team invited to the tourney and would have received $50,000 more if the Gophers qualified for the Sweet 16. A Final Four spot for the Gophers would pay him $50,000, with $100,000 rewarded for winning the national championship.

There is a small photo of Gophers guard Nate Mason on this week’s Sports Illustrated collage cover of various NCAA players—“March Madness ’17, Where’s Your Team?”

Tournament teams pore over scouting reports and game films of their opponents but there’s little preparation for specific referees and their styles of officiating. The officials aren’t known to teams until 30 minutes prior to tipoff.

A spokesman for the Gophers athletic department said the University of Minnesota received and sold 450 tickets from the NCAA for South Region games in Milwaukee. Tickets are priced at $152 to $200, and they admit patrons to two rounds of basketball. The NCAA doesn’t offer student tickets for its men’s NCAA Tournament games.

Conference USA-based Middle Tennessee State isn’t exactly a University of Minnesota rival, but the two schools meet in football September 16 at TCF Bank Stadium. The first game ever between the programs was in 2010 in Murfreesboro, with the second meeting in 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota is 2-0 against the Blue Raiders.

The Winthrop team Butler defeated yesterday in a South Region game has a roster that includes brothers and Duluth natives Anders Broman and Bjorn Broman. Both are guards, with Bjorn usually a starter.

Dick Jonckowski

Dick Jonckowski, who retired this month after 31 seasons as the Gopher public address announcer at Williams Arena, is doing P.A. work this week for the girls’ state basketball tournament and will work the boys’ tourney next week.

Former Timberwolves basketball boss David Kahn is a potential candidate for the UNLV athletic director job, according to an online story last Tuesday by Mark Anderson with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Eric Musselman, the son of former Wolves and Gophers head coach Bill Musselman, has re-invented himself as a college coach. Musselman coached in the NBA from 1998-2007 but now as head coach at Nevada had the Wolf Pack in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years. Nevada lost its tourney opener last night to Iowa State.

Retiring linebacker Chad Greenway of the Vikings will help lead 10,000 volunteers working the February 4, 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis.

There will be 300 feet of security surrounding U.S. Bank Stadium for the game, with between 100,000 and 130,000 out of town visitors expected, according to a source helping with planning. Nicollet Mall will be a major site of pre-Super Bowl game attractions, with eight to 10 blocks of activities.

Byron Buxton is listed No. 10 among 10 MLB players who could have breakout seasons in 2017, according to a March 8 story by The article said the Twins rushed Buxton to the big leagues but the athletic center fielder has the potential to hit 30 doubles, 10 triples, 20 home runs and steal 30 bases.

Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens will be among the more interesting and entertaining speakers at the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Clinic March 30-April 1. Teevens has been a guest on the “Late Show” with Stephen Colbert. Since modifying Dartmouth practices to reduce injuries, Teevens’ teams are 21-9 and shared the Ivy League championship in 2015.

Teevens will speak at the DoubleTree Hotel in St. Louis Park the night of March 30. More information is available about the clinic by clicking on the MFCA advertisement on this page and visiting the organization’s website.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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