Up 16 points with 15:55 to play, 12 with 8:39 to play, eight with 2:00 to play, and two with 12 seconds left and a 73% free-throw shooter at the line, the Gophers nonetheless couldn’t seal the deal, losing to the Maryland Terrapins 74-73 on a three-pointer with 1.9 seconds left and more than likely losing any chance at a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Minnesota was outscored 43-26 in the second half, shooting just 34% from the field, turning the ball over seven times, and missing three free throws over the final 40 seconds, two of which were the front end of one-and-ones.
The top-ten Terps were poised as can be by comparison, overcoming two technical fouls, foul trouble for stars Jalen Smith and Anthony Cowan, and a 6-28 mark from three as Darryl Morsell buried the only shot from distance that ultimately mattered, giving the Terps their second lead of the game – with 1.9 seconds left.
Maryland led for a total of 24 seconds and still won.
Daniel Oturu was phenomenal again, leading Minnesota with 28 points and 11 rebounds, his sixteenth double-double of the year, as was Marcus Carr, who added 19 and 7 assists, breaking the program’s single-season assists record in the process. But it wasn’t enough.
“About as difficult a game as I’ve been a part of,” said coach Richard Pitino.
Unfortunately, the mistakes that lost his team the game were all too familiar:
Free-throw shooting. The Gophers have been far-from-dependable from the free throw line all season, and in their biggest game of the year this came back to bite them yet again. The team was just 11-18 from the line, missing the front end of three one-and-ones and a technical free throw, again. It’s not entirely fair to say the game was won and lost at the line, but as Maryland shot 18-22, calmly 9-12 in the second half, the Gophers left point after point after the line, with Carr and Gabe Kalscheur going 1-4 in those final 40 seconds, missing the front end of consecutive one-and-ones, respectively, with 24 and 13 seconds left as the 73-69 lead turned into a 74-73 defeat.
“Just missed some crucial free throws in the second half,” said Pitino, succinctly. “We’ve missed some crucial free throws in all of [the team’s recent close losses].”
Dependence on threes. It wasn’t only the free throw line shooting that hurt them, though. Minnesota came out on fire from distance to start the game, going 6-7 from beyond the arc in the first 6:17 and finishing the first half a blistering 7-13. In the second half those shots stopped falling, however, as the team went just 3-11. This was capped by consecutive misses from distance up 72-67, with Ihnen missing with 1:32 left and from Carr air-balling with 50 seconds left. Teams play to their strengths, but shooting just 32% from three on the year, you wonder if such high-volume shooting from deep really is the team’s strength.
Sloppiness. The Gophers played well for the most part, but a failure to execute again cost them. Maryland racked up 20 offensive rebounds leading to 16 second-chance points, none bigger than a put-back dunk by Smith with 14 seconds left to keep his team alive and set the stage for the dagger to come next. Minnesota were out-scored 16-4 on the break, a number of which came from lazy passes in the second-half that turned into easy dunks for Maryland in transition.
And then there were the turnovers. Up nine with under eight minutes, the U turned the ball over three times in four possessions, two from Carr and one from Oturu. Carr had four in the second half, though surely him playing all 40 minutes was a factor there. Kalscheur had three himself. And Ihnen threw an out-of-bounds pass away with 44 seconds left as the Gophers attempted to protect a three-point-lead.
Failing to finish. All the mistakes have been highlighted above, but it bears repeating just how brutal close losses have been for the Gophers. Up one with 18 seconds left and the ball against Purdue, they lost. Up eight with 5:25 left against Iowa, they lost. And tonight, up a lot at a lot of points in the game, they again lost. All of those games were wins Minnesota should have had, and had they won even one of them they would be in a very different position.
“Different levels of devastation,” was how Pitino described the recent three-game home stretch in which second-half leads were squandered against Iowa, Indiana, and now Maryland. “It’s been very difficult. We could have won all three of them.”
Indeed, they could have. And the fact that the Indiana game doesn’t even crack the top-three of demoralizing losses this year is perhaps the most damning aspect of it all.
The Gophers travel to Wisconsin on Sunday, and at 13-14 overall and just 7-10 in the Big Ten, likely need to win their final three regular season games and then do some damage in the Big Ten tournament if they want to make a postseason appearance.