WKU struggled to put the ball in the basket Thursday night, but it was Minnesota’s shooting that left Head Coach Ken McDonald frustrated.
The Toppers (2-1) allowed Minnesota to shoot 63 percent from the field and 53 percent from 3-point range, falling 95-77 in the first round of the 2010 Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“After you lose a game to a good team, you give them credit, but you also know that you didn’t put close to 40 minutes of the effort we need together,” McDonald told WKU’s Big Red Radio. “We had a lot of mental breakdowns, and that’s disappointing. You know the guys are feeling bad in the locker room.
“But at the same time, we really didn’t deserve to be in the position to win this game.”
WKU next plays Hofstra at 5 p.m. Friday. The game will once again be available for viewing online at ESPN3.com.
Each of Minnesota’s starting five scored in double figures Thursday night, led by junior center Ralph Sampson’s 22. Sampson also had eight rebounds and seven blocks.
Junior forward Trevor Mbakwe added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and sophomore forward Rodney Williams had 17 points.
“We failed to crawl into them and make them hit hard shots,” senior forward Sergio Kerusch said. “They hit a lot of open shots and a lot of free shots, so we just have to pick up our intensity. We think there’s so much we could have done differently.”
After shooting 56 percent from the field despite being labeled a defensive team through its first two games, the WKU offense was brought back down to size Thursday.
The Toppers shot 38 percent and connected on just 10-of-29 tries from 3-point range. They shot only 32 3-pointers in their first two contests.
McDonald said those poor shooting numbers didn’t upset him because he expects WKU to win with defense. But with focus and effort lacking on the defensive end, he said the Toppers “brought the loss on themselves.”
“There were some positives, but in a game like this, you can’t have half the team playing pretty good and the other half not playing well,” McDonald said. “It’s not about making shots. It’s more about the defense and the rebounding, and you’ve got to know you can rely on everybody on a given night.”
WKU battled to a six-point deficit at halftime despite playing most of the first half without senior forward Juan Pattillo, who went to the bench early in the frame with two fouls.
After falling behind 13-7, the Toppers used a 13-4 run to grab a 20-17 lead at the 8:13 mark after a 3-pointer by junior guard Kahlil McDonald.
But Minnesota (3-0) answered with an 8-0 burst, pushing out to a 25-20 lead three minutes later after a dunk by Mbakwe. WKU trailed the rest of the game.
A layup by senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew pulled the Toppers within three with 20 seconds left in the first half, but Minnesota senior guard Al Nolen buried a 3-pointer with two seconds on the clock to make the halftime score 40-34.
The Golden Gophers didn’t let up from that point forward, starting the second half on a 12-2 run that Blake Hoffarber finished with a layup with 16:01 left in the game.
WKU had several more chances to cut its deficit to single figures again, but the Toppers were continuously stymied by careless possessions and clutch shots by Minnesota.
The biggest may have been after a putback by Pattillo made it 70-60 with 7:33 to play. The Golden Gophers worked a long possession, then finished it with a 3-pointer by Williams.
“There were a lot of chances to get back in the game and do some things,” McDonald said. “We just seemed to hurt ourselves with a bad turnover or a bad decision on defense.”
Pettigrew once again made it a 10-point game with a 3-pointer with 1:20 left, but Minnesota finished on an 8-0 run to make the final score its largest lead of the game.
“It’s back to the drawing board,” Kerusch said. “We’ve got to use this loss as fuel. We got some sense knocked back into us, like my mama would say, and we’ve got to come back tomorrow and leave it all on the court.”
The Toppers actually outrebounded Minnesota, 38-37, and forced the Golden Gophers into 19 turnovers.
Pettigrew led all scorers with 25 points but grabbed just one rebound in the game. Kerusch, who started for the first time this season, finished with a double-double, notching 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Junior guard Ken Brown had five assists in the first half, but he recorded none in the second half and finished with six turnovers and 11 points. His backup, sophomore guard Jamal Crook, had six points, six assists and five rebounds.
“Jamal was very good, and Ken Brown wasn’t,” Ken McDonald said. “He had six turnovers, and his control was an issue. He didn’t run the team like he needed to, and Jamal came in and did a great job, especially on the defensive end.”
After a sluggish showing in their Puerto Rico debut, Kerusch said the Toppers will need a short memory.
“There really wasn’t anything to say when you walked into the locker room,” he said. “Everyone knew what they had to do. As bad as it is to take the loss, we have to put it behind us. We can’t come into tomorrow drooping around. You have to come back in, realize what you came here to do, and get out with a win.”
Hofstra (1-1) lost 107-63 to North Carolina in its first-round game Thursday. The Pride are led by senior guard Charles Jenkins, who’s averaged 25 points per game in their first two contests.
“It’s always good for a reality check to see what you’re made of,” McDonald said. “We knew that going into this tournament, and that’s why we schedule this kind of competition. We want to get better every day and be tested every day. Teams all through this tournament will expose us if we’re not on our game.
“We won’t win another game this year if we play that kind of defense.”