With loss at Northwestern, Gophers are historically bad

The Gophers men’s basketball team wore its 1970s throwback gold jerseys against Northwestern on Saturday, but fans have to go back to before World War II to find Minnesota teams with a worse Big Ten winning percentage than the current edition.

With an 81-61 loss to the Wildcats on Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill., the Gophers’ conference record sank to 1-9 at the halfway point of the Big Ten schedule. That .100 winning percentage currently sits as the second-worst winning percentage in program history.

If Minnesota doesn’t win another conference game in February or early March, this season’s team would set the lowest winning percentage (.050) in its history as a Big Ten school. That’s 118 years in the making.

Four Gophers team in the 1920 and 1930s are currently tied for the worst winning percentages (.083) in program history. That was back when Minnesota played 12 conference games. This year’s squad needs just one win to avoid that ignominy.

It’s hard to imagine that the Gophers will lose out in its final 10 games; they have had a handful of close losses in January to Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan and Indiana. But it’s also difficult to see where many, if any, wins will come from. The U has lost five straight and travels to surging Rutgers on Wednesday. And there’s a gap between Minnesota and the rest of the conference’s 14 teams.

Minnesota (7-13 overall) used to be able to count on beating Northwestern — 101-71 all-time record — but this year’s Wildcats team (15-5, 6-3) has climbed toward the top of the pack in the Big Ten standings outside of frontrunner Purdue.

On Saturday, Minnesota led 11-7 with 14 minutes left in the first half, thanks in part to a zone defense that had confused Indiana in a 61-57 loss on Wednesday. But Northwestern started to cut behind the zone and shoot over it. The Wildcats went on a 29-7 run to take control 36-18 with five minutes remaining in the half.

Minnesota had 15 turnovers in the game, which led to 18 Northwestern points. The U had 11 turnovers in the first half and trailed 42-28 at the break.

“(It) didn’t seem like we valued much on either side of the ball,” head coach Ben Johnson said on the KFXN-FM postgame show. “Having 15 turnovers, obviously, to finish the game and not giving yourself a chance possession-wise. … We weren’t an engaged group that was going to be able to make this a fight.”

The Gophers remained without leading scorer and top rebounder Dawson Garcia for a second straight game because of abone bruise in his foot. Johnson said postgame Garcia is day-to-day.

Center Pharrel Payne cleared concussion protocol after missing the Hoosiers game on Wednesday and made his first start of the season. The freshman from Cottage Grove contributed only three points and three rebounds.

Northwestern’s Chase Audige led all scorers with 24 points, with teammate Boo Buie adding 21. Jamison Battle had 20 points for Minnesota.

Minnesota’s ineptitude from the free-throw line — 16 for 26 on Saturday — remains a major issue. When the U missed its eighth shot from the stripe, it triggered a game promotion that allowed Wildcats to earn free chicken sandwiches. Jaden Henley’s miss from the line in the second half got a bigger applause from the home crowd, just one illustrative scene in a season that’s going from bad to worse.


The Minnesota program’s worst winning percentages in Big Ten play since the conference started in 1905-06:

.111 — 2015-16; 1986-87
.100* — 2022-23
.083 — 1932-33; 1928-29; 1926-27; 1922-23

* Ten games to go this year

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