Four takeaways for Gophers men's basketball from the Wisconsin loss

It was only fitting that the Gophers' comeback hopes ended in a 63-60 loss Tuesday against Wisconsin with a turnover costing Ben Johnson's team a chance to tie the game.

A season-high 20 turnovers in the game for the Gophers was the main culprit in ruining their hopes for the program's first win in Madison since 2019. The Badgers scored 21 points off turnovers.

As well as the Gophers played to nearly erase their 15-point deficit in the second half, Johnson was frustrated with his players making too many mistakes to win a Big Ten game on the road.

"It's no disrespect to Wisconsin but they're not a team that presses," Johnson said. "They don't pressure and they don't deny. So, we'll watch it and go, wow that was a lot of self-induced, self-inflicted turnovers at key points. Against a top-25 team on the road you can't do that."

Here are four takeaways from the loss at Wisconsin to open Big Ten play in 2023:

Careless turnovers

On the Gophers' final possession of the game, Ta'Lon Cooper dribbled the ball up the right side of the floor trying to make a play off a screen from Joshua Ola-Joseph.

Only problem was that Wisconsin's Chucky Hepburn saw it coming and jumped the ball screen for a steal that sealed the game in the waning seconds.

Hepburn's one of the Big Ten's top defenders, but the play was also predictable and indicative of what occurred the entire night. A lack of ball movement turning into relatively unforced mistakes.

Before Cooper got his pocket picked, there was an open teammate running up the middle of the floor. Jamison Battle might've been an option on the opposite side. But ball reversal was non-existent Tuesday.

The Gophers did a lot of standing and watching offensively with Cooper, Battle, and Dawson Garcia trying their best to create opportunities for themselves. That trio had 43 points combined, but the team finished with a season-low seven assists on 24 field goals, including starters Battle, Garcia, and Ola-Joseph combining for zero assists and 10 turnovers.

Cooper conundrum

The U's 21-7 run to pull within a point late in the game was fueled by Cooper's playmaking. The junior point guard had nine of his team-high 16 points in the second half, including a layup to cut a 15-point deficit to three with 27 seconds to play.

Figuring out when to be aggressive scoring and when to facilitate is one of the most difficult jobs in basketball. And Cooper was struggling to figure that out Tuesday.

"For the most part he does a good job taking care of the ball and gets us into our stuff," Johnson said. "He knows when the opportunity presents itself to look to score but also be a facilitator to get us in our offense. He showed growth in some parts, which was good to see."

Several of Cooper's six turnovers, though, were seemingly caused by trying to create himself against one of the toughest defenses and on-ball defenders in the Big Ten. And without another consistent scoring option in the backcourt, Cooper has too much responsibility at times. He can't do it all.

More production from others in the backcourt would be a huge lift off Cooper's shoulders. Braeden Carrington, Taurus Samuels, and Jaden Henley combined for just three points Tuesday. Minnesota's top four guards were outscored by Wisconsin's top four guards 39-19.

Rebounding improvement

Morale victories are often bittersweet, but the Gophers can come away with some positives from the narrow loss at Wisconsin, especially their performance on the glass.

In their most impressive rebounding performance in a loss this year, Minnesota won the battle of the boards 40-27, including 24-9 with eight offensive rebounds in the second half.

The fact that the Badgers are last in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-2.6) obviously made them vulnerable. But Johnson's crew (ranked 12th in the Big Ten) was one of the worst rebounding teams in the league to begin this season.

Battle and Garcia combining for 18 rebounds Tuesday was the biggest improvement since they had struggled mightily on the boards in earlier losses. Battle had just two rebounds combined in losses to Virginia Tech, Purdue, and Mississippi State. And Garcia grabbed a season-high nine boards Tuesday.

Badger injury

Wisconsin's leading scorer and rebounder Tyler Wahl had just two points in nine minutes Tuesday after being sidelined with an ankle injury.

That opened the door for the Gophers to pull off the upset, but the Badgers were clearly lifted by others picking up the slack.

Minnesota native Steven Crowl had his fifth straight double figure scoring game with a team-high 17 points on 8-for-13 shooting, including 13 points in the second half. The 7-foot Crowl has been the Gophers killer the last two games. He had 20 points in last year's 68-67 win at the Barn.

Gophers freshman big man Pharrel Payne tried to match Crowl's physicality inside with his 255-pound frame, but it wasn't enough to slow him down. Garcia matched his former D1 Minnesota AAU teammates at times. But the frontcourt battle going in Wisconsin's favor even with Wahl out was a deciding factor.