Flashback to Dec. 15 in Lincoln, Neb. -- the Gophers were a top-15 team in the country and the Nebraska Cornhuskers were ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten. Little did Gopher fans know, they were getting a glimpse of what was about to come. The Gophers’ season was on a downward slide and the Huskers were about to become one of the nation’s biggest surprises.
Tuesday night, the two teams met with different goals. For the Huskers (17-8, 8-4 Big Ten), an NCAA tournament berth is on their minds, while the Gophers (14-11, 3-9 Big Ten) continue using inexperienced players to finish the season. Nebraska used a strong first half shooting performance to run past the Gophers for a 91-85 win.
Not much changed for the Gophers as sophomore Amir Coffey missed another game with a shoulder injury. Guard Dupree McBrayer also played just 14 minutes as a leg injury continued to limit him.
"I don't know what his status is moving forward,” Pitino said. “We’ll see if we can get that pain tolerance down.”
Minnesota has now dropped nine of their past ten games, falling into the bottom tier of the Big Ten standings. A career-high 34 points by Nate Mason weren’t enough as Nebraska’s hot first half three-point shooting carried them to their ninth conference victory. The Gophers opened the game on a 7-0 run, but Nebraska hit six consecutive field goals to claim a six-point lead. The Huskers were shooting 7-for-10 from behind the arc as the Gophers struggled to defender the perimeter.
“I thought we really after the first couple minutes came out on fire and shot the ball so well,” Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said.
Minnesota went on a 3:13 scoring drought as the Huskers were on a 14-3 run over 5:12. Their lead stretched to 13 points behind strong shooting from Glynn Watson Jr. and Isaac Copeland Jr. Right before halftime, the Gophers showed signs of life as freshman Isaiah Washington’s buzzer beater helped spark a 7-0 run to pull Minnesota within seven points. Washington finished the night with ten points and eight assists, including two strong attacks at the rim. The young point guard has tallied three consecutive games in double figures, showing confidence with every additional minute.
“I thought [Washington] did a really good job in the second half,” Pitino said. “He can go by anybody, but he’s just got to understand that he needs to look to pass and he did that. He made a great adjustment.”
The duo of Washington and senior Nate Mason combined to score 44 points, shooting a combined 14-for-33 from the floor. Minnesota trimmed the Nebraska lead to one-point behind four made shots by Jordan Murphy during a 7-0 second half run. Murphy notched a double-double, scoring 22 points and snatching 13 rebounds. The small spark came to an abrupt end as two easy layups and a technical foul by head coach Richard Pitino stretched the Nebraska lead back to eight. Tempers flared all night as Pitino ripped off his tie and took several long walks to avoid drawing an additional technical foul. The Gophers’ small glimmer of momentum came to an end following the technical, as the Huskers went on a game-cinching 8-0 run.
Point guard Nate Mason had four second half three-pointers to help narrow the deficit, but the Gophers couldn’t climb back. Head coach Richard Pitino is pleased with his team’s effort, but Mason’s career night was lost in the shadows of another game marred by a Gophers team lacking firepower and depth.
“They’re fighting. They’re giving us everything they got,” Pitino said. “How many teams could sustain these injuries and battle like we’re doing?”
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Tag(s): Gopher Basketball