Gophers drop sixth Big Ten game

Andre Hollins led the team with 21 points in the road loss to Nebraska.

Minnesota guard Andre Hollins shoots for three against Rutgers in the first half at Williams Arena on Saturday, January 17, 2015.  Hollins scored seven three-pointers and a season high of 31 points.

Holly Peterson, Daily File Photo

Minnesota guard Andre Hollins shoots for three against Rutgers in the first half at Williams Arena on Saturday, January 17, 2015. Hollins scored seven three-pointers and a season high of 31 points.

Jack Satzinger

Holding sharpshooter Terran Petteway to 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting would usually be enough to beat Nebraska.

But conventional wisdom doesn’t apply to the Gophers right now.

Not when they keep losing winnable conference games by five points or fewer. Not when they shoot 31 percent from the field. Not when DeAndre Mathieu, the heart and soul of last year’s NIT championship team, keeps missing game-tying shots after improbably losing his starting spot to freshman Nate Mason.

Minnesota (12-8, 1-6 Big Ten) lost at Nebraska 52-49 Tuesday night despite Andre Hollins’ 21 points and 11 rebounds.

Hollins was in a slump for the good part of the last month, but after the 31-point output in Saturday’s victory against Rutgers and Tuesday’s strong performance, it looks like he’s back to being himself.

“It’s tough, you know, just mentally,” Hollins said Saturday of going through the slump. “I had a lot of support from my teammates, the staff.”

But as Hollins worked out of his dry spell, the senior’s teammates fell into a funk of their own.

Mathieu was 0-for-7 from the field Tuesday. The biggest miss came with just seconds left on the clock as he fired a 3-pointer from the left corner that would have forced overtime.

Starting center Mo Walker, arguably Minnesota’s steadiest performer in the non-conference slate, only posted four points off 2-for-8 shooting. He checked out of the game early in the first half with two fouls, which opened the door for freshman Bakary Konate to have one of his better games of the season.

At one point in the first half, 6-foot-11-inch Konate shared the floor with Charles Buggs and Gaston Diedhiou, who are both 6 feet, 9 inches tall. While the group is incredibly inexperienced — Diedhiou made his career debut Tuesday night — they did a good job of crashing the boards.

Konate compiled seven rebounds and has started to consistently back up Walker, a role previously held by senior Elliott Eliason.

“I’m very surprised Coach has the confidence in me,” Konate said Saturday.

The Gophers sorely needed rebounding from their backup center because Walker couldn’t get position against Nebraska’s Walter Pitchford, who out-rebounded the Gophers center 11-4.

Rebounding isn’t Walker’s strong suit, but head coach Richard Pitino said he needs to get better at it — fast.

“Some of it’s technique, and some of it is just understanding where he’s at on the court, and some of it is just embracing that contact and physicality,” Pitino said last week.

While Walker and Mathieu’s struggles were nothing to write home about, Minnesota’s collective inability to hit free-throws was probably the difference in the game.

The Gophers were just 9-for-19 from the charity stripe while Nebraska hit 14 of 21 attempts.

In another close conference game, that’s enough to amount to a loss — even if the opposition’s best player has an off night.

“We’re going to be in a lot of close games. That’s just the reality of where we’re at right now,” Pitino said last week. “So if we can’t win them, we’re going to struggle.”