Close calls, missed opportunities story of Gophers’ season

Last week, Minnesota lost two games by a combined 3 points

by Nick Jungheim

With one game remaining in the regular season, the Gophers currently have a sub-.500 record, meaning anything short of an unlikely run to the Big Ten Tournament Championship will see them miss the NCAA Tournament.

Throughout the year, Minnesota has had plenty of opportunities to improve its resume. According to ESPN’s BPI, it has the hardest strength of schedule Division I. However, in the likely scenario that they don’t hear their name called on selection Sunday, the Gophers will have nobody to blame but themselves.

“I think we have some really good kids,” head coach Richard Pitino said. “We are just losing some close games.”

Eight of Minnesota’s defeats this season have come by 6 points or less. Between Feb. 8 and March 1, the Gophers dropped five of six games, four of those defeats coming from within that 6-point margin. The only exception was a 68-56 loss to Indiana on Feb. 19, a contest which Minnesota led by as many as 10 points.

The team’s struggles to close out games came to the forefront last week. Hosting No. 9 Maryland, the Gophers had a chance to turn their season around and led the Terrapins for over 39 minutes. Late in the second half, a Maryland rallied back from a 17-point deficit, pulling ahead of Minnesota with a 3-pointer in the final moments.

That game exemplified how close the Gophers have been at times to pulling off statement victories. Other notable heartbreaking losses include a 83-78 double overtime loss at Purdue on Jan. 2 and a 58-55 defeat to Iowa. Against the Boilermakers, Minnesota led with less than 30 seconds left, while versus the Hawkeyes, the Gophers had an 8-point lead with 5:25 remaining but failed to score another point.