Nate Mason was so frustrated after losing to Michigan over the weekend that he was basically speechless after the game. The Gophers point guard saw the best opportunity to get his senior season back on track slip away, even after he nailed a three-pointer to send that game into overtime.
Even with his team’s realistic chances at making the NCAA tournament gone, Mason still is trying to finish his college career strong.
Mason scored 19 of his career-high 34 points in the second half, but the Gophers’ issues defensively led to a sixth consecutive loss, 91-85 to Nebraska on Tuesday night in front of an announced 11,193 at Williams Arena.
“He’s going to be disappointed when you lose a tough one on the road — those emotions are normal,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said of Mason. “He came back to work. There’s no feeling sorry for himself. He’s battling.”
Last season, Mason earned first-team All-Big Ten honors, but his recognition came as the driving force behind his team’s record-setting turnaround.
He and junior forward Jordan Murphy are putting up even better numbers this season, but the shorthanded Gophers (14-12, 3-10 Big Ten) don’t have the wins to show for it.
Murphy finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds, tying Gophers great Mychal Thompson’s single-season school record with his 21st double-double.
Nebraska (18-8, 9-4) took sole possession of fourth place in the Big Ten standings with its sixth victory in seven games. The Gophers, who are losers of eight of nine, are tied with Iowa for 11th place.
“I don’t need to say anything to them about winning,” Murphy said of his teammates. “They know what’s at stake and what are goals and expectations are — to play hard every game. Me and Nate do the best we can, but at the end of the day, they’re motivated guys. We all like to win and know what we need to do.”
Down eight early in the second half, the Gophers went on a 13-5 run to tie it 62-62 on a three-point play by Michael Hurt with 9 minutes, 40 seconds left. Mason scored seven points during the rally, including his fifth three-pointer of the game.
Just when it seemed his team might take control, Pitino was called for a technical foul losing his cool over a foul called on Mason off a steal. After Anton Gill hit two free throws, Nebraska scored on consecutive possessions, taking a 70-62 lead on Evan Taylor’s layup.
“You know I can’t comment on officiating,” Pitino said.
Isaiah Roby and James Palmer Jr. had 21 and 19 points, respectively, for the Cornhuskers, who won at the Barn for the first time since 2003.
Nebraska shot 59 percent in the first half, including 8-for-12 from three-point range. That matched Michigan’s three-point shooting total for the entire game in Saturday’s 76-73 overtime loss.
The Gophers’ largest deficit was 15 before they closed the first half on a 13-5 run. Isaiah Washington drilled a buzzer-beating shot from beyond the arc for a 44-37 halftime deficit.
Washington, the Big Ten freshman of the week after a 26-point outing Saturday, followed that up with 10 points and eight assists Tuesday, replacing Dupree McBrayer for the entire second half.
McBrayer was limited to only 14 minutes because of a lower left leg injury. Washington took a hard fall on the Gophers’ final possession of the game, but Pitino said he was fine.
Amir Coffey missed his eighth game because of a right shoulder injury. Center Reggie Lynch was out for his 10th game with an indefinite suspension.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity this year. We just have to overcome it with the guys we have,” Hurt said. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves and I don’t think we did. We battled until the end.”