Minnesota stumbles at Nebraska

Malik Smith had 29 points but couldn’t lead team to victory.

Minnesota guard Malik Smith looks for a pass in the game against Montana on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Ichigo Takikawa

Minnesota guard Malik Smith looks for a pass in the game against Montana on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Jace Frederick

LINCOLN, Neb. — After a major step forward a few days ago, the Gophers took one step back Sunday as they fell 82-78 to Nebraska.

The same Gophers squad that was in complete control for 40 minutes in its win over No. 9 Wisconsin on Wednesday looked bamboozled for much of Sunday’s game.

“I think it shows you how far we have to go to be competitive at a high level,” junior center Elliott Eliason said. “We’ve got a long ways to go still.

“Every time I think we’re there, we do something like this, and it shows we’re just not there.”

The 82 points scored was a Big Ten record for Nebraska.

The sluggish defensive effort from Minnesota was an embodiment of what has been a problem in Big Ten play.

“There’s a reason why we’re 4-4 in the league,” Gophers head coach Richard Pitino said. “We guard versus Wisconsin. We didn’t do a great job tonight. And that’s why you’re going to sit around .500 until you can consistently defend night in and night out.”

Huskers sophomore forward Terran Petteway carried his team all night long. Petteway finished with 35 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the floor.

“He’s a really good player,” Pitino said. “He made some big-time plays. He made some big-time shots.”

Petteway made multiple free throws down the stretch to secure the Huskers’ win and stymie a furious Gophers comeback attempt.

Minnesota trailed by 15 points in the second half but closed the gap to two with 2.7 seconds left before losing.

“We got stops and got out on the break,” Pitino said. “I think we’re tough to guard when we get out on the break, but if you don’t get stops and you don’t get rebounds, you can’t run. … I’m proud of them because they could have wilted but they didn’t.”

Malik Smith carried the Gophers offensively, finishing with 29 points on the strength of an 8-for-12 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.

Smith said he came in with a more aggressive approach in his first Gophers start replacing leading scorer Andre Hollins, who missed the game with a severely sprained left ankle he sustained in the win over Wisconsin.

“He just told me to go out there and be aggressive,” Smith said of his conversation with Hollins before the game. “We needed that today, and I think I provided that.”

But Smith’s backcourt mate — junior guard DeAndre Mathieu — struggled mightily with Nebraska’s trapping defense.

Mathieu’s 13-point performance was overshadowed by the nine turnovers.

“That really wasn’t like him,” Smith said. “I think they got in his head early and his body language didn’t allow him to play much better after that. … He’s a good kid, and he’ll work hard and learn from it.”

Eliason missed some shots inside early and struggled to get much going. The Chadron, Neb., native finished with just five points in the return to his home state.

“I personally just didn’t have any focus today,” Eliason said. “I do [put more pressure on myself], and I just didn’t handle it the right way at all. I’m just really disappointed in myself.”

Minnesota fell to 0-2 this season following wins over ranked opponents.

The Gophers have to switch gears moving forward, as the next two opponents sit close behind them in the standings — starting with Northwestern on Saturday.

“We have some middle-of-the-pack teams coming up, but every team is strong in this conference,” Smith said. “We can’t take any win for granted. A lot of people would think we’d come in here and get this win, but … it didn’t work out that way.”