Buzzer-beater spoils Gophers’ senior day

Minnesota will play Wednesday in the Big Ten tourney at the United Center.

Minnesota guard DeAndre Mathieu defends Penn State guard D.J. Newbill in the first half at Williams Arena on Sunday.

Holly Peterson

Minnesota guard DeAndre Mathieu defends Penn State guard D.J. Newbill in the first half at Williams Arena on Sunday.

Jack Satzinger

After the Gophers trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half against Penn State on Sunday, Mo Walker and Joey King led a comeback that knotted the score at 76 with 14 seconds remaining.

Head coach Richard Pitino raised his hands, imploring the crowd to get on its feet as DJ Newbill brought the ball up the court. The Penn State guard rose from the top of the key and shot over Nate Mason’s outstretched arms.

Bang.

When the scoreboard at Williams Arena read the final score of 79-76, the 12,412 fans in attendance stood with shocked looks on their faces.

It was another close loss for Minnesota, but losing to a perennial Big Ten bottom-feeder  at the last second with every senior’s loved ones in attendance for their final regular-season home game had an extra sting.

“[We had] so many close losses at home and … that one definitely hurt the worst out of all of them,” senior point guard DeAndre Mathieu said. “I definitely didn’t imagine my last home game ending like that.”

Coming off a noon start with an hour of sleep lost from daylight saving time, the groggy Gophers began the game on the wrong foot. Minnesota (17-14, 6-12 Big Ten) trailed by nine points at halftime.

“I didn’t think anyone had any energy. I thought the building was a little quiet, and then I thought it got going,” Pitino said.

It got going when Walker and King decided they were going to take over the game. Walker finished with a career-high 26 points, bullying the Nittany Lions inside for dunks to go with 11 rebounds.

King’s 19 points were one off a career high. He played arguably his best game of the season — tallying four assists and taking a charge — but it wasn’t enough.

“We were fighting at the end of the game, clawing back, and to go down like that is pretty frustrating,” the junior forward said.

While most of the Gophers started the game sloppy and got going in the second half, Andre Hollins was red-hot to open up the contest. He made back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers in just more than a minute en route to 13 first-half points.

But after missed shot after missed shot, Hollins was held scoreless in the second half.

“The ball just didn’t go in,” he said.

A victory would have secured the Gophers a first-round bye in the upcoming Big Ten tournament. Now, they’ll have to play an extra game on Wednesday, charting a grueling five-game stretch where the unlikely outcome of winning every contest would result in an NCAA tournament berth.

“That’s a blow because it’s an extra game, but it happens. We have to take what’s given to us,” Hollins said.

Walker said the Gophers are going to “fight till the end.” But after a long season of missed opportunities, doubt may be starting to set in.

“When you know two plays can make the difference, it definitely starts to click that maybe it’s just not meant to be sometimes,” Mathieu said. “We let it go.”