Gophers drop fourth straight on last-second free throws

Minnesota fell to 6-8 in Big Ten play with 62-61 loss at Nebraska.

Senior forward Jordan Murphy jumps for the ball during the game against Penn State on Saturday, Jan. 19 at Williams Arena. The Gophers won 65-64.

Jack Rodgers

Senior forward Jordan Murphy jumps for the ball during the game against Penn State on Saturday, Jan. 19 at Williams Arena. The Gophers won 65-64.

Nick Jungheim

In order to snap their three-game losing streak, Minnesota had to win in an arena it had never gotten a victory in before. 

Since Pinnacle Bank Arena opened in 2013, the same season Richard Pitino took over as head coach of the Gophers, they had gone 0-5 in the building.  

On Wednesday, Minnesota (16-9, 6-8 Big Ten) dropped its sixth-straight in Lincoln, Nebraska as a pair of free throws with just over one second remaining gave Nebraska (14-11, 4-10 Big Ten) a 62-61 victory. 

The loss is particularly frustrating for the Gophers as Nebraska came into the game on a seven-game losing streak and without one of their best players, senior Isaac Copeland Jr., who suffered a season-ending injury on Jan. 26.

“It is what it is,” Pitino told the Gopher radio network. “You move on, it’s part of sports. You just move on to the next one. We showed great heart, I feel bad for our guys.”

Minnesota dominated the paint in the first 10 minutes, building an 11-point lead. Freshman Daniel Oturu scored four consecutive baskets for the Gophers before junior Amir Coffey nailed a 3-pointer to give the Gophers a 15-4 edge early.  

Just when it seemed Minnesota was in full control of the game, Nebraska senior James Palmer Jr. began to take over for the Cornhuskers. He led the charge on a 14-2 run that erased the Gophers’ lead in just over three minutes.  

Palmer scored 14 points in the first half but also picked up his third foul with 4:55 left until the intermission. Without him on the court, both teams played each other close, trading the lead back and forth before Minnesota took a 31-30 lead into the locker room.  

After Nebraska began the half on a 9-1 run, the game tightened up and neither side could gain much separation from the other. Neither team held a lead larger than four points over the final 16 minutes.  

Down the stretch, Minnesota relied on senior Jordan Murphy’s strength in the paint. Murphy scored 12 of the Gophers’ last 17 points and gave them a 61-59 lead with 1:05 to play. However, up one point with 21 seconds to play, Murphy was called for a charge which gave Nebraska the ball back.

On the ensuing possession, the referees called Coffey for a shooting foul on Palmer with 1.1 second left. Palmer calmly made both free throws to give him a game-high 24 points and sink Minnesota. Following the game, Pitino took exception with the foul call on Coffey.

“I’m really disappointed with the way that game ended,” Pitino told the media. “I can’t say it any clearer.  My guys showed heart, my guys fought, and it’s unfortunate. Absolutely unfortunate the way that ended.”

For the Gophers, Murphy (19) and Oturu (16) scored more points than the rest of the team combined. Murphy also had 13 of the team’s 25 rebounds.  

“[Murphy] showed great heart,” Pitino told the Gopher radio network. “Deserved to win, unfortunately we did not. We have to go find a way on Saturday.”

Minnesota had one of its best 3-point shooting nights of the season, going 6-14 from beyond the arc, including three from Coffey. However, aside from those nine points, Coffey only scored once to put his total at 11.

Next up for Minnesota is a home game against Indiana on Saturday. The Hoosiers are another team struggling in conference play, having lost nine of their last 10 games.