The Gophers got their most complete half of the season when they needed it most Wednesday night, but they needed more to put away Big Ten-leading Maryland.
There haven’t been many home games when everything seemed to go in their favor. Even when Richard Pitino’s teams were playing well lately, it eventually went south.
Minnesota fans had experienced collapses down the stretch recently in back-to-back losses to Iowa and Indiana that hurt their team’s NCAA tournament hopes. This one likely stung the most.
That sour taste of missed opportunities continued when Darryl Morsell’s three-pointer with 1.9 seconds left erased a 17-point lead to sink the Gophers’ chances at an upset in a 74-73 loss against the No. 9 Terrapins in front of 9,252 at Williams Arena.
This is the first time since the 2017-18 season that Pitino has lost three consecutive home games. You could make a case the Gophers (13-14, 7-10 Big Ten) could have been 3-0 in those games by just being able to finish.
“Different kinds of devastation,” Pitino said to describe each defeat. “It’s been very, very difficult. We could’ve won all three of them. I feel for our guys. They’re playing hard. I just got to get them back and get them positive again.”
The Gophers had a chance to extend their 73-71 lead with 12 seconds left, but Gabe Kalscheur missed the front end of a 1-and-1. That gave Maryland (23-5, 13-4) all the time it needed.
On a broken play, Minnesota cut off Anthony Cowan Jr.’s drive to the corner, but he swung the ball and the Terrapins eventually found Morsell for the game-winning shot.
Daniel Oturu, who had a team-best 28 points and 11 rebounds, got the game’s final shot after catching a full-court inbounds pass above Minnesota’s three-point line, but it fell well short.
Pitino screamed at officials for a foul call, but his pleas went unheeded. His team fell apart again when it mattered most, just like in gut-wrenching losses to the Hawkeyes and Hoosiers at the Barn.
The Gophers were outscored 11-0 in the final 5:25 against in a 58-55 loss Feb. 16 against Iowa. They were outscored 8-0 in the last two-plus minutes following in a 68-56 loss against Indiana. And they were outscored 10-1 in the final two minutes against the Terrapins.
“It just snowballed a little bit,” said Pitino, whose team plays at Wisconsin on Sunday. “But that’s on me. I got to get them more composed.”
Gophers players weren’t made available to the media after the game to explain their mistakes.
The Barn was rocking, especially during the Gophers’ glorious start, but the atmosphere turned tense midway through the second half.
Gophers guard Marcus Carr, who had 19 points and broke the school record for single-season assists with his 180th dish, found Kalscheur for a three to make it 54-38 with 15:54 left. The Gophers were then outscored 22-10 with six turnovers in the next nine minutes.
Morsell’s steal and dunk with 6:37 left to play drew jeers when Maryland cut the lead to 64-60. Oturu responded with a layup on a spin move.
Carr and Kalscheur made baskets but also missed free throws after Oturu’s two foul shots gave the Gophers a 72-64 lead with 2:06 to play. It wasn’t enough of a cushion.
Minnesota struggled to handle Maryland’s late pressure. The threes also weren’t falling as regularly as they were in the first half.
In the first seven-plus minutes, the Gophers jumped out to a 21-8 lead by hitting six of their first seven three-pointers, including four in a row to open the game.
Minnesota’s three-point barrage carried over from the 14 three-pointers drilled in Sunday’s 83-57 victory at Northwestern. Freshman Isaiah Ihnen, who returned from a wrist injury, scored nine points on three of the team’s seven three-pointers in the first half to give the Gophers a 47-31 halftime lead.
The Gophers hit only 3-for-11 from beyond the arc in the second half, but they also gave up 18 second-chance points on 20 offensive rebounds. Jalen Smith and Aaron Wiggins led the Terrapins with 16 points apiece.
“We’ve got a team of fighters,” said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who saw his team respond from Sunday’s 79-72 loss at Ohio State that stopped a nine-game win streak. “They just keep fighting and fighting.”