MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota men's basketball coach Richard Pitino must continue to retool on the fly after his team's rut grew deeper with a near-record home defeat Saturday, Jan. 13.
Minnesota remains without two pivotal starters, so its poor shooting was the death knell in an 81-47 loss to No. 5 Purdue at Williams Arena. The 34-point margin was the second-largest ever at home, behind a 39-point loss to No. 1 UCLA in 1968.
The Gophers (13-6, 2-4 Big Ten) shot 29 percent form the field, making 10 fewer three-pointers than Purdue, and Minnesota has now lost three consecutive games in a week with center Reggie Lynch suspended for sexual misconduct investigations and guard Amir Coffey sidelined with a shoulder injury.
“It just feels like a totally new team,” Pitino said. “I don’t think I'm going to get three months (to practice), so I will probably get an hour (Sunday, Jan. 14) before we go to Penn State, but I will make the best of it. Still got a long season to go, and we are just going to have to keep working with them and control what we can control.”
Meanwhile, the Boilermakers continue to soar. Purdue (17-2, 6-0) has won 13 straight games since November, and forward Vince Edwards led the way Saturday with 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting in 29 minutes.
Pitino called Purdue the best team Minnesota has played in the Big Ten, with contender Michigan State on the schedule Feb. 13. If the Gophers were going to upset the defending Big Ten champions and the league's current leader Saturday, top scorers Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason would have needed to shoulder an increased workload. Instead, both struggled to score from the start until they sat out the end of the blowout.
“I think we missed some open looks as well as they are a very, very big team as well,” Pitino said. “Their length bothers you.”
Mason, who scored a career-high 31 against Purdue last season, didn't make a basket until the six-minute mark of the first half. He finished with eight points on 2-of-10 shooting, well below his 15.6 points per game average.
“We just tried to take up space,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said about guarding Mason tighter during on-ball screens. “We thought we gave him too much freedom ... last year.”
After 17 straight double-doubles to start the season, Murphy has been held below 10 rebounds for the past two games. He had 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting with four rebounds. He was limited to two rebounds in limited playing time during a blowout loss to Northwestern on Wednesday.
Without Lynch to pair with in the post, Murphy receives double teams sooner. “It's a huge difference,” Murphy said.
The Boilermakers blew open the game with a 15-0 run in a five-minute stretch of the first half to open a 24-11 lead, and it swelled to 20 at 37-17 with 2:36 remaining. A Gophers spurt cut Purdue’s lead to 40-27 at the half and then 40-30 with three free throws from reserve guard Isaiah Washington, who led Minnesota with 11 points, to start the second period.
But the Gophers never got closer than that.