Gophers Fall Short to Michigan 82-74
MINNEAPOLIS (Gophersports) - Derrick Walton Jr. sparked Michigan's strong start with 19 of his career-high 26 points in the first half, and the Wolverines hung on to beat Minnesota 82-74 Wednesday and give the Gophers their 13th consecutive loss.
Walton added eight rebounds and seven assists for the Wolverines (18-7, 8-4 Big Ten), who bounced back from a pair of double-digit defeats at home last week to Indiana and Michigan State by shooting 56 percent (14 for 25) from 3-point range.
Nate Mason scored 19 points for the Gophers (6-18, 0-12). They didn't fold after falling behind by as many as 19 points early in the second half, storming back to within 74-72 on a layup by Carlos Morris with 1:37 left.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman answered with a 3-pointer from the corner, though, and the Wolverines stayed steady over the final seconds. Abdur-Rahkman finished with 16 points, and Duncan Robinson had 14 points and nine rebounds.
The Gophers gave the Wolverines a scare in the first meeting in Ann Arbor, a 74-69 win by Michigan, so they ought to have had some of the confidence that has been in short supply all season for this contest. Their 24-point loss at Northwestern last week, however, could have negated any of the progress made at the end of January during competitive defeats by quality foes in Indiana, Michigan and Purdue. That's the way this looked until their late surge.
The Wolverines played again without leading scorer Caris LeVert, whose left lower-leg injury stretched the senior swingman's absence to 11 straight games, but they've avoided any extended letdowns with their perimeter depth and disciplined offense. Michigan, averaging more than 10 made 3-pointers per game and third in the Big Ten with a long-range shooting percentage at better than 40 percent, is the only team in the conference averaging fewer than 10 turnovers per game.
The worst strategy the Gophers could have followed was to get in an outside-shooting contest with the Wolverines, but that's what happened early and that's essentially how the game was decided. Michigan finished 9 for 16 from 3-point range in the first half. Minnesota went 3 for 12.
With Joey King trying to guard him at the top of the key as the last seconds ticked away, Walton used a slick crossover dribble to pull up for a 3-pointer he swished with King's hand in his face for a 42-28 lead at the break. That proved to be enough production to withstand the cold stretches in the second half.
The Wolverines have been overshadowed in the Big Ten race by the showings of Maryland, Iowa and others, but they've fared relatively well with a challenging schedule and without LeVert lately even if expectations have been so far unmet. Five losses have come against teams in the top 18 of this week's Associated Press poll, including three of the top eight in Iowa, Xavier and Michigan State. Two other defeats, by Connecticut and Indiana, came by opponents who were ranked at the time of the game. They beat Maryland, currently the No. 2 team in the country, last month.
Michigan shot 53.8 percent from the floor, the best since Jan. 2 against Penn State (59.2 percent). ... The Wolverines went just 12 for 20 from the free-throw line.
Minnesota has never been winless in 111 seasons of Big Ten men's basketball. The Gophers went 3-13 in 2006-07 and 2-16 in 1986-87, but that's the closest they've come since World War II. They lost 16 straight games to finish the 1986-87 season, their longest losing streak until this one. ... Freshman Ahmad Gilbert returned for the Gophers from a five-game absence due to a dislocated finger. He was scoreless in limited action.
Minnesota plays at No. 4 Iowa on Sunday.