The Gophers men's basketball team remains stuck on one Big Ten win. Do they get half a win for a moral victory?
The Gophers deserved more than a cold walk back to their dorms late Wednesday night after nearly pulling off a stunner before falling agonizingly short, 61-57, to the Indiana Hoosiers.
A loss is still a loss in the cutthroat nature of major college athletics, but sometimes the performance can be judged less harshly and less critically for those on the wrong side of the outcome.
Sometimes you applaud the effort, appreciate it for what it was and move on.
Such was the case for the Gophers on this night.
Spectators arrived at Williams Arena for an 8 p.m. tipoff expecting the Hoosiers to have total control by 8:05 p.m.
The Gophers already have a short supply of talent when healthy. Injuries forced them to play without three regulars in the rotation, leaving coach Ben Johnson with only seven scholarship players available against the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten Conference.
The Shorthanded Seven included one player (Will Ramberg) who had played only two minutes in the previous eight games and another (Treyton Thompson) who had played just 11 minutes in the previous six games.
The Gophers led by one point with under a minute remaining.
The Hoosiers won that final minute to win the game, but the full 40 minutes provided another reminder that showing up to an arena, stadium or ballpark creates the possibility of being witness to something wholly unexpected and dramatic.
Sports are supposed to be fun and entertaining, and not much about this Gophers season has been fun or entertaining. The old Barn finally felt alive Wednesday night as the crowd reveled in the ridiculous, cheering lustily for every dive onto the floor for a loose ball or big shot by Jamison Battle, who looked like a star again.
The Gophers have received their share of deserved criticism this season. Their talent issues are obvious, which is best reflected in their offensive struggles. The only solution is for Johnson to recruit better talent.
The results on the court have been pretty miserable, enough to demoralize a team, but the Gophers brought plenty of energy and fight to the Hoosiers despite being depleted in manpower.
The Gophers had no business being in this game. Their effort deserves a tip of the cap. They gave everything they had, just came up short. No shame in that.
Johnson's rotation dwindled to five players for most of the second half after Joshua Ola-Joseph limped off the court right before halftime. Ola-Joseph returned only when Thompson fouled out with 43 seconds left.
A zone defense disrupted Indiana's offensive flow. The Gophers had better ball movement on offense, which led to quality shots and only five turnovers (well below their season average of 13). And Johnson managed the game smartly to navigate a razor-thin margin for error.
The effort stood out more than anything. The competitive fight.
Battle played all 40 minutes and looked like himself again after struggling throughout the season. His 20 points and four three-pointers carried the offense.
The little-used Thompson was on the court for nearly 37 minutes and looked as if he might collapse from exhaustion at the end, having to battle Indiana star Trayce Jackson-Davis without help from injured teammates Dawson Garcia and Pharrel Payne.
Thompson missed all five of his three-point attempts, but his effort allowed him to contribute eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
Something to build on for him personally. And the entire team.
This version of Indiana isn't exactly a Bobby Knight outfit, but Jackson-Davis is a load inside and his put-back off a missed free throw in the final minute gave his team the lead for good.
A close, spirited loss counts just the same as any other, but the Gophers showed improvement under the most unlikely and unexpected circumstance. Hard to complain about that.