Gophers top Nebraska, back in win column

It wasn’t pretty by any means, but the Gophers break out of losing skid with a 75-57 win over the Cornhuskers.

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Nur B. Adam

Guard Marcus Carr shoots through the opponents at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 28.

AJ Condon

The Gophers men’s basketball team had the perfect matchup to get out of its funk and back to playing how the team was before its first matchup with the Cornhuskers was postponed. That was true for about 20 minutes of the game. Ultimately, they found themselves back in the win column after dropping the previous three and falling out of the AP top-25.

If at first you don’t succeed at something, you should keep trying, right? That maybe shouldn’t be the case for the Gophers and shooting threes. Coming into the game, Minnesota ranked dead last in the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage at 30% while attempting the third-most shots.

Minnesota kept consistent and fired up 36 three-point shots and couldn’t get much to drop. Even when Nebraska played zone and pretty much gave Minnesota open deep balls, nothing changed and Minnesota saw its once 19-point lead slowly dwindle away.

When Minnesota finally got back to the basics, driving the ball and getting paint touches, it finished the game on a high note and a dominant win.

If you didn’t watch the opening possession, you probably wouldn’t believe that it started out with a Gophers made three. That played a part in Minnesota getting a little trigger happy and firing up 18 three-pointers in the first half. Only five of them found the bottom of the net, with two coming from redshirt senior Brandon Johnson out of the corner.

“I just had to get in the flow of the game,” Johnson said on hitting his second and third three since Christmas Day. “Today it really came in the flow of the offense, so I just gotta keep just focusing on getting my touches and my shots in the flow of the offense.”

There wasn’t much else going against Minnesota in the first half. Points were coming from all over the place, as eight different Gophers found the scorers sheet in the first half. Johnson led all scorers with 10 points, followed by redshirt junior Marcus Carr who had eight, in large part, because he played just nine minutes.

That was another issue the Gophers ran into in the first half, as both Carr and junior Liam Robbins were limited in playing time due to each picking up three fouls. With both the team’s leading scorers dealing with foul trouble, it opened up the game for Johnson to take a hold of. He finished with a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, seven of them coming on the offensive glass.

“[Johnson] was terrific, he saved us. I didn’t even sub him out in the second half, just because I thought that we needed him,” Gophers’ head coach Richard Pitino said. “Playing through a finger injury, as well, so showing great toughness, he got us some extra possessions. He was huge.”

When Carr was on the court, he was getting involved in almost every Gopher basket. Along with his eight points, Carr assisted on five other Gopher baskets, leading the team to nine first-half assists.

The Gophers and Cornhuskers both were having their way on the offensive glass. The difference was that Minnesota was able to turn those second chances into points.

Nebraska had eight offensive rebounds, but only scored four points while the Gophers had seven that led to nine points. Minnesota held Nebraska to just three offensive boards in the second, while grabbing nine of its own.

“The physicality, just blocking out,” Pitino said on the difference in the second half. “We got to hit bodies, there’s no team that’s more physical than the team we’re about to play [Purdue]. I thought we took a major step forward versus Rutgers, and we better hit a body every single time versus Purdue.”

The second half wasn’t too friendly to Minnesota as a 19-point lead turned into a nine-point lead. The Gophers went on a five minute and 10-second scoring drought where they shot 0-of-14 over the span. It finally ended as Johnson hit the first of his two free throw attempts.

Without Carr and Robbins on the court due to foul trouble, the Gophers were trying to shoot themselves into a larger lead. Long story short, it didn’t work. A team that doesn’t shoot the three well decided that was the only shot they’d take in the second half.

That led to shooting 3-of-18 from deep in the second half, as Minnesota tried to break the Nebraska zone. Once Carr and Robbins got back on the court, the offense ran a lot smoother and the lead began to rise.

Carr was the lone Gopher to actually find success in the second half. After dealing with foul trouble the entire game, Carr was able to score 13 second-half points and extend the Gophers’ lead back to double-digits. He finished the night with 21 points and eight assists to lead Minnesota to a win.

“I definitely wanted to come out here today and not take this one lightly and not take it for granted. It’s the Big Ten, at the end of the day, everybody can play, and [I] just wanted to get back on track, and erase these past three games,” Carr said.

After another good first half from freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr., he was able to set a career-high in points. He scored seven points on 3-of-6 shooting in the first, but then needed 10 shots in the second to get to 11 points on the night.

Junior Gabe Kalscheur was another Gopher who struggled to see a shot go in. This isn’t new for the junior, as he’s struggled all year, but tonight felt worse than the rest. He scored 10 points, but went 1-of-9 from deep and 3-of-13 from the field.

The Gophers will be right back into action when they host Purdue Feb. 11 and try to build on Monday’s win.

“It’s always huge when you can get a good, quality win on your home court. Going into Thursday playing Purdue, again, we definitely have some unfinished business,” Carr said. “We’re gonna continue to practice and prepare for Purdue.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Gabe Kalscheur’s total points scored.