Gophers Blow 19-Point Lead and March Madness Dream with 2nd Half Meltdown in Iowa City

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Iowa
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Gophers traveled to Iowa City on Sunday for a pre Super Bowl matinee against the Hawkeyes, a road contest Ben Johnson’s group needed to have, in order to climb into the NCAA Tournament conversation. And the Golden Gophers brought their A-game to Carver-Hawkeye arena for the first.

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Elijah Hawkins and Pharrel Payne got themselves into early foul trouble, but the Gophers didn’t skip a beat. Dawson Garcia and Mike Mitchell Jr calmly took the game into their hands and built up a 13-point lead by halftime.

Minnesota Gophers Dominate 1st half in Iowa

Garcia went 7-for-8 from the field and scored 18 points in the first 20 minutes. Mike Michell Jr went 3-for-5 from deep and added two free throws for 11 points of his own. As a team, the Gophers shot 55% from the field and 67% from deep. They could not have dreamed up a better 1st-half scenario.

Yet somehow they came out of halftime even hotter than they went into it. This time, it was Cam Christie leading the charge, scoring 10 of the Gophers’ first 14 points in the 2nd half. With just over 14 minutes left, the Gophers held a 19 point lead.

But around that same time, Dawson Garcia fell to the floor after successfully blocking a shot on defense. He came out of the game shortly after and never returned. From that moment on, the Minnesota Gophers were not the same team.

Dawson Garcia leaves game; Gophers Blow 19-point lead

From the 14:20 mark to the 4:34 mark, Iowa outscored the Gophers 31 to 11 to take a one-point lead. When the final buzzer sounded, the scoreboard showed a 90-85 Iowa win and I sat witness to one of the most epic 2nd half Gophers meltdown in men’s basketball history. The refs deserve some blame. They were brutal and the 22-11 foul differential speaks for itself.

It’s difficult to blame the referees when you play as poorly as the Golden Gophers did during the 2nd half on Sunday. After the game, Ben Johnson didn’t have an update on Dawson Garcia’s injury, but told us after the game that Minnesota ‘lost its edge’ when he exited.

Carver-Hawkeye Arena was quiet for the entire 1st half, outside of a few fans screaming their dismay at Fran and his players, who could have heard a pin drop, let alone a rowdy season ticket holder from 25 yards away. This isn’t the first 2nd-half disaster of the season (remember what happened vs Mizzou?) but it has to be the most deflating.

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Instead of a four-game winning streak that sling-shots them up the NET rankings and into NCAA Tournament conversations, we’re left to wonder if Ben’s 2024 squad is in for a season-flattening disaster on Thursday night in West Lafayette vs Purdue.