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Men’s basketball falls short in Big Ten Tournament round 2

After an upset win over Nebraska on Wednesday night, the Gophers’ Cinderella run ended with a loss to Maryland Thursday.
Image by Alex Karwowski
Freshman guard/forward Jaden Henley helped pull the Gophers ahead in their game against Nebraska on Wednesday.

The Gophers ended their regular season with a loss to rival Wisconsin on Sunday before they flew down to Chicago for the 2023 Big Ten Tournament.

The No. 14 seeded Gophers defeated No. 11 seeded Nebraska Wednesday. Minnesota advanced to round two on Thursday, where they lost to the No. 6 Maryland Terrapins.

March 9 vs. Nebraska

The Gophers had a slow start to the game. Nebraska took an early 8-point lead amid a sea of red that packed the United Center. Ta’Lon Cooper made a pair of free throws to give Minnesota its first points more than four minutes into the game.

Junior Jamison Battle led the Gophers to their first lead of the game after he hit a layup midway through the first half. Dawson Garcia, Battle and Jaden Henley all hit consecutive 3-pointers for the Gophers, giving them a 5-point edge over the Cornhuskers.

The Gophers shot 58% from the field in the first half, resulting in a 37-33 lead.

Henley strengthened the Gophers’ lead to 11 early in the second half after he drained a pivotal 3-pointer. Nebraska’s Sam Griesel responded with a layup to bring the Cornhuskers’ deficit within 4 points.

Battle hit his last 3-pointer of the night before fouling out of the game at the nine-minute mark. The call infuriated Gophers Head Coach Ben Johnson, which cost his team a technical foul and serious momentum.

“I put myself in his shoes at that moment and said, you know what, he’s given a lot to this school. Sometimes you’ve got to let it rip and let it ride,” Johnson said. “My technical, that was on me 100%; that was probably not the smartest thing to do.”

The game started to heat up without the Gophers second-leading scorer. Griesel brought the score within 1 point for the Cornhuskers after a jump shot in the paint.

Minnesota defaulted to getting the ball to their point guard Cooper down the stretch. He responded by knocking down 8 of 10 free throws when the Gophers needed them most.

“They make me come in every day and shoot 75 free throws, 75 makes, so I think that helped a lot,” Cooper said. “Nothing was really going through my mind, just stepping up, just knocking down the free throws.”

Cooper only missed two free throws all night, which led the Gophers to defeat the No. 12 team on Wednesday 78-75.

“I thought the resolve and toughness that they showed, both mental and physical, the entire game, especially after getting off to a rough start, was phenomenal,” Johnson said. “That’s what it takes to win at this level and in this tournament.”

The Gophers advanced to the second round where they matched up with No. 6 seeded Maryland.

March 10 vs. Maryland

The Gophers answered with an early 8-2 Maryland run, with an 8-point run from a trio of true freshmen, a foundational part of their team they will hope to build upon next season.

“We had our ups and downs but just feel like we stuck with it,” freshman guard Braeden Carrington said. “To have this core group of freshmen for the next couple years is definitely exciting.”

Maryland quickly responded with a 9-2 run of their own to regain the lead. Henley cut the Gophers’ deficit to three after he put one up, but Maryland hit its fifth and sixth 3-pointers of the first half to stretch the lead to 9 points with less than five minutes left to play in the first half.

A jumper from Henley and free throws from Pharell Payne allowed Minnesota to close the half down 31-24.

The Terrapins opened the second half with a 10-2 run, just before Minnesota responded with its own 11-4 run. Payne added two more field goals to stay within 8 at 49-41.

Maryland stretched the lead to 15 points after Jahmir Young hit his free throws. Carrington sank two 3-pointers and Cooper nailed a jumper to pull the Gophers within 9.

The Terrapins, however, outscored Minnesota 12-5 over the final five minutes of game play, winning 70-54 and advancing to Friday’s quarterfinal round against No. 3 Indiana.

True freshman Payne, who scored 17 points on a perfect six of six from the field, led the Gophers.

“I thought he had a lot of energy on the offensive glass,” Garcia said. “He’s an incredible talent, and he’s only going to get better because he likes to work and he’s very coachable.”

Johnson said developing his young team will be a critical part of their off-season work.

“Player development is obviously huge, whether it’s weight room, on the court, getting guys
physically ready,” he said. “You take a look at our league, there’s a lot of older guys, and there’s mature bodies, and we’ve got to be one of those next year.”

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