LINCOLN, NEB. – Two seasons ago, the Gophers were being obliterated by nearly 40 points in the second half at Nebraska. Just to keep from running up the score, Cornhuskers coach Tim Miles played mostly his reserves for the last five minutes of the game in a 25-point victory.
Richard Pitino’s team has come a long way since then.
But the Gophers were humbled again Tuesday night in a fifth consecutive loss at Nebraska, 78-68 in front of an announced 15,598 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
For a team with Big Ten title aspirations, the No. 14 Gophers squandered an opportunity to get that always-difficult conference road victory. They lacked energy early and struggled to execute on both ends of the floor.
Nebraska gained a significant advantage once it limited Minnesota’s frontcourt tandem of Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy, who scored only 19 points on 7-for-18 shooting together and committed eight turnovers combined.
“They did a really good job on our bigs,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “They game-planned well there, and we didn’t handle it great. So again, the offense we can get better, but we can control that defense. That’s a problem.”
Nate Mason and Amir Coffey led the Gophers (8-2, 1-1 Big Ten) with 20 and 17 points, respectively.
The Cornhuskers (7-3, 1-1), who shot 57 percent in the second half, were led by Glynn Watson Jr., who scored 20 of his season-high 29 points in the second half.
If there’s a moral victory out of the first Big Ten defeat, the Gophers turned a 17-point second-half deficit into single digits late in the game.
After Nebraska went scoreless for nearly three minutes, Mason, Coffey and Isaiah Washington hit three-pointers. Murphy’s final basket, on a dunk, gave him his 10th double-double for a 74-66 deficit with 51 seconds left.
After being an early national player of the year candidate, though, Murphy came down to earth a bit Tuesday. The Big Ten’s leading scorer and rebounder grabbed 12 rebounds, but he was held to 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting. He started the game missing nine of his first 10 shots, which carried over from a 3-for-13 performance in Sunday’s win against Rutgers.
“We definitely need Murphy on the court,” Mason said. “He’s going to get in foul trouble some games. We need other players to step up. That’s just how the game rolls.”
Minnesota still has a month to clean things up before Big Ten play resumes in early January, but it has lost two of the past three games after a 7-0 start. And a tough road game looms Saturday at Arkansas.
On Tuesday, the Gophers took a two-point lead around the 12-minute mark in the first half, but they were chasing the rest of the way. Murphy got banged up early and picked up his second foul, sitting for nine minutes in the first half and returning later with little impact.
After Mason cut it to 34-31 with under a minute left in the first half, Nebraska outscored Minnesota 14-1 going into halftime and to open the second half.
Watson scored eight straight points and Duby Okeke’s dunk gave the Cornhuskers a 48-32 advantage.
“It really all comes down to stops,” Coffey said. “I don’t think we have a problem with our offense and scoring, but we need to get stops at the end of the day.”