COLLEGE PARK, MD. – Maryland’s student section went quickly from standing and waving to frustration when Gophers guard Akeem Springs opened the second half with back-to-back three-pointers Wednesday night.
The game started the same way for Springs, who had 10 of his team’s first 12 points.
Much like their first four Big Ten road wins, the Gophers jumped out to a hot start and silenced the opposing crowd.
And they kept them quiet.
The Gophers likely sealed their first NCAA tournament bid since 2013 with a sixth straight victory and ninth Big Ten win this year Wednesday in a 89-75 triumph over No. 24 Maryland at the Xfinity Center.
“We’re a good team,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “It’s nice now we can put the tournament talk to bed. We had put that to bed, but people kept talking about it. We’ve got a lot of quality wins. We’ve got a lot of tough kids. We’ve got no ego, and we’ve got great chemistry.”
Dupree McBrayer and Nate Mason led the way with 18 and 17 points for the Gophers (21-7, 9-6 Big Ten), who scored 55 points in the second half on 54 percent shooting.
Jordan Murphy had all of his 15 points in the second half, to go with eight rebounds. Springs finished with 16 points for Minnesota, which won a fifth conference road game for the first time since 1981-82.
It was the second victory this season for the Gophers against a ranked Big Ten opponent on the road, which had happened only once in the program’s history, in 1996-97.
Pitino’s team defeated No. 15 Purdue 91-82 in overtime Jan. 1 in West Lafayette, Ind. That still might be his best win this season, but this was definitely more important.
The Gophers, in fourth place in the conference with a chance at a double bye for the Big Ten tournament, entered Wednesday with a Rating Percentage Index (RPI) ranking at No. 21 and a No. 15 strength of schedule. Minnesota and Northwestern are both 9-6 in the conference, but the Gophers are fourth because they beat the Wildcats earlier this season.
The Terrapins (22-6, 10-5), who likely fell out of the Big Ten title race with first-place Purdue and Wisconsin, had a No. 18 RPI. That gives Minnesota a 6-5 record against teams in the RPI top 50.
The last time the Gophers played Maryland, they fell 85-78 Jan. 28 at Williams Arena, for a fifth consecutive defeat. This has been a different team, a much tougher team, since.
“Mentally tough and physically tough,” said McBrayer, who had 14 second-half points. “We’re getting after it every day in practice and simulating what these guys run. That’s why we’re being effective.”
In the first meeting, the Gophers led by 12 points in the first half, but they couldn’t stop the Terrapins’ three-point shooting in the second half.
On Wednesday, Pitino couldn’t get his team to figure out Maryland’s screen-and-roll action in the first half, and the Gophers trailed 35-34 at halftime.
But just like the Gophers did in wins at Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois and Rutgers, they withstood a second-half push from the home team.
Mason’s layup midway through the second half made it 61-56. Pitino had to bench rim protector Reggie Lynch after a fourth foul with 9:43 remaining. But the Gophers were able to play without Lynch for the last 9:46 and overtime in an 83-78 win Sunday against Michigan.
Maryland cut it to 61-60 after two free throws from Anthony Cowan, but McBrayer’s jumper and Murphy’s dunk sparked a 20-4 run.
Cowan cut the deficit to eight points at 5:48, but Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon picked up a technical foul complaining about a call at midcourt.
Mason’s two free throws made it 72-62. On the next possession, Murphy converted a basket and free throw for a 13-point lead for the exclamation point.
Maryland’s Melo Trimble, who averaged 29.6 points in two games last week, was held to 11, on 4-for-12 shooting. Ivan Bender led the Terrapins with 12 of his 15 points in the first half.
“We had a lot of joy, lot of happiness,” Mason said of the locker room atmosphere. “Happy we came down here in a tough environment and pulled out the victory.”