The Gophers ended the regular season on a high note, snapping a three-game losing streak by throttling the Nebraska Cornhuskers 107-75 in front of a sparse crowd at Williams Arena. Minnesota ends the regular season at 14-16, 8-12 in the Big Ten.
Gabe Kalscheur led the team with 26 points on 8-11 three-point shooting, tying a program-record, Marcus Carr had 18 and 11 assists, and on senior day, Alihan Demir had his first double-double as a Gopher, finishing with 19 and 10 rebounds. The team shot 57% from the field, set a record with 18 made threes, and racked up 32 assists.
“We shot the ball extremely well, shared the ball well,” said coach Richard Pitino after the game. “It was important to get a win.”
While the performance came against an overmatched Nebraska team that came into the game just 2-17 in conference play and dressed only just nine guys after suspending two of their three leading-scorers yesterday, it nonetheless represented the blueprint Minnesota will have to execute to be successful in next week’s Big Ten tournament:
Simply put, the Gophers finally showed the shooting team they could be. The U went a ridiculous 18-35 from three, breaking the school-record, on the way to a 57% mark from the field at 41-72. Carr (7-11), Kalscheur (9-13), Demir (8-12), and Daniel Oturu (4-7) all made the most of their opportunities.
Minnesota shot an absurd 63% in the first half, going 20-32 from the field amid an equally-blistering 7-13 from beyond the arc as Carr, Kalscheur, Michael Hurt, Payton Willis, and Isaiah Ihnen all hit from three before the break.
“I said all along I thought we were a great shooting team,” said Pitino. “They waited until the last game to prove me right.”
The Cornhuskers, it should be noted, are easily the Big Ten’s worst defensive team, allowing opponents to shoot 44% and giving up 76.8 points per game.
Poor defense doesn’t naturally lead to efficient offense, however, and in that regard, the Gophers played perhaps their best game of the season. The season-high 32 assists came as four starters finished with at least two, led by Carr’s 11 and Michael Hurt’s 7 in just 20 minutes as a senior day starter.
Minnesota pushed the pace and found the open teammate, penetrated and kicked, drove and dropped off, and swung the ball over the court, as four starters finished in double-figures and all thirteen players on the roster got on the board by the time it was over. Oturu, who had 27 shot attempts on Wednesday against Indiana, was just 4-7 as he faced triple-teams in the post, but the effective team play showed they can win without their best player’s A-game.
“Give Minnesota credit, they came out with the right mentality,” said Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg, formerly of the Timberwolves. “They’re fighting right now, I know that.”
And then there was Kalscheur. Clearly playing with confidence, he had a nice drive early to finish in the lane, then settled into burying from distance, going 8-11 from beyond the arc on the way to 26 points on 9-13 shooting. At one point in the second half, he hit back-to-back threes and at another, after sitting for a few minutes, came back in an attempt to tie the long-distance record and promptly swished another.
“I just let it fly,” said Kalscheur, adding that “it felt like every shot was going in” before going on to speak about persevering through his shooting struggles this season.
“I’ve just tried to be positive. It’s hard being a shooter when the shots aren’t going in. There’s a lot of outside talk. There’s a lot of reflection… I just trust myself.”
“He’s such a better shooter than he’s shot this year,” said Pitino.
Kalscheur is the x-factor for Minnesota, as the team is now 9-4 in games he hits three or more shots from three and 10-6 when he scores in double-figures. Bring that confidence on the plane to Indianapolis, Gabe!
Fun at the Barn
As a tough regular season came to a close, there were a number of enjoyable moments on Sunday afternoon. Hurt, starting on senior night, had 5 points to go with his 7 assists. Walk-on Brady Rudrud, an Eden Prairie grad, ran the offense for five minutes late in the game and buried a three to bring the crowd to its feet. Freshman Sam Freeman, a talented but raw player, threw down a big dunk a few minutes later to do the same. Fellow walk-on Hunt Conroy also scored, making a free throw after drawing a foul via a nifty pump fake on the perimeter, earning his cheers at the line.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a game where everyone on the team scored, so that was cool to see,” said Pitino afterward.
All in all, it was a great day at Williams Arena.
And now the real test begins. The twelfth-seeded Gophers will tip off the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday, taking on Nebraska again at 5 p.m. in Indianapolis. Last year, Minnesota won two games and got into the NCAA tournament as a 10-seed. They’ll need to do a little more than that this year.
“One game at a time,” said Kalscheur on his team’s mindset heading into the postseason. “We can make a big surprise.” We shall see.