MINNEAPOLIS — When two of the Big Ten’s best and tallest players faced off just last week, Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson made his 7-foot-1 mark on a decisive win over Minnesota.
Liam Robbins and his teammates stepped up in a big way to avoid the repeat.
Robbins had 22 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes to lead No. 23 Minnesota to a 75-57 victory on Saturday, handing No. 7 Michigan its first loss while holding Dickinson to a season-low nine points.
“We challenged Liam: `You’re a junior. He’s a freshman. He’s a really good freshman, but you’ve got to act like the junior in this one,”‘ Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.
Marcus Carr scored 17 points and Gabe Kalscheur added 10 points for the Gophers (11-4, 4-4 Big Ten), who played their seventh straight game against an team ranked in the Associated Press poll. According to Minnesota’s research, this was the most consecutive Top 25 opponents for any NCAA team since St. John’s faced eight in a row in 2011.
Back in their happy place after decisive defeats last week at Michigan and Iowa, the Gophers limited the Wolverines – the best shooting team in the conference – to a season-low score while forcing them into a season-high 20 turnovers.
“We were embarrassed about what happened in Ann Arbor, and we were going to make sure that didn’t happen on our home court,” said the 7-foot Robbins, who made three 3-pointers in the second half and helped hound Dickinson – who has already won the Big Ten’s freshman of the week award five times – into five turnovers with only five shot attempts.
Eric Curry chipped in while Robbins was out with first-half foul trouble and finished with six points and three steals to fluster Dickinson, who had 28 points on 12-for-15 shooting in the last game against the Gophers.
“He’s probably never been in that frustration spot. He’s always been the dominator, the centerpiece,” said Isaiah Livers, who had 11 points for the Wolverines. “Hunter’s a smart kid, though. Like everybody else on this team, he’s resilient.”
Chaundee Brown Jr. scored 14 points for the Wolverines (11-1, 6-1), who played without senior guard Eli Brooks due to a foot injury from a recent practice.
Their half-court flow constantly disrupted, the Wolverines never led. Third-leading scorer Franz Wagner went scoreless in the first half. The Gophers had a 13-4 edge in fast-break points, 23-9 in scoring off turnovers.
Brown swished a corner 3-pointer to make it 41-35 with 13:58 left, but Robbins and the Gophers immediately took over after that without letting up.
“That was supposed to be our run,” Livers said. “They had a great game plan. They were prepared.”
Carr and company kept attacking the basket off the dribble down the stretch, the most sound strategy for a team that entered the weekend second in the country in free throw attempts.
“Guys, I don’t know how smart I am,” Pitino told his team prior to the game, “but if you’re dead last in 3s, you should not be first in attempts.”
SATURDAY, IN THE BARN
The Gophers didn’t play a single Saturday home game in 2019-20. This season, with no fans able to buy tickets due to COVID-19 restrictions, five of their 10 conference home games are on Saturdays.
Minnesota’s four losses have come by an average margin of 20 points, all to Big Ten teams ranked in the top 14 of the latest poll and all away from home.
Michigan: Fresh from their 77-54 thrashing of No. 9 Wisconsin, a third win by 19-plus points in as many matchups with ranked foes, the Wolverines have been playing like a Final Four team. At some point in this loaded league, a setback was bound to happen.
“This loss right here is a loss that we’re going to learn from,” coach Juwan Howard said.
Minnesota: Through the thick of their front-loaded conference schedule, the Gophers have stacked up so many quality wins that simply landing an at-large NCAA Tournament bid would be a letdown.
Michigan has done enough to stay in the top 10 when the next AP poll is published on Monday. Minnesota, the lowest of six ranked Big Ten teams, will undoubtedly move up several spots.
Michigan: Hosts Maryland on Tuesday.
Minnesota: Visits Nebraska on Wednesday.