Read my full game story on Minnesota’s 79-76 regular-season finale home loss to Penn State here (if you dare).
Three quick observations before I leave this building for the last time this season:
Fitting. After coach Richard Pitino had cooled down from his sideline fury and sat down in front of the podium, he called it “a little bit fitting” that Minnesota would lose its final game in such a fashion as it did – on DJ Newbill’s 23-foot rainbow that sucked any remaining life out of the Barn at the buzzer. The Gophers, of course, have lost eight (EIGHT!) conference games decided by six points or fewer this season, and have played in 11 such games. Weeks ago, Pitino shunned the comments going around about Minnesota being “unlucky,” suggesting instead that the Gophers should make their own luck. Now, the coach has embraced the theory. “It hasn’t quite gone our way this year. I’m not saying we’re unlucky, but I don’t know if we’ve been lucky.”
Run in the days ahead? I don’t see it. Now, Minnesota – which will either play Penn State again or Rutgers depending on what plays out with the Nebraska-Maryland game tonight – would need to win five games to make the NCAA tournament, something that players are still talking about. “I think we have a run in us,” Mo Walker said. “I think we can do big things. I think we can surprise a lot of people.” Such things are hard to imagine. Minnesota has foiled nearly every opportunity it’s gotten this season, losing close game after close game and then laying an egg vs. Wisconsin in a contest that could have actually changed the Gophers’ fate to some extent.
Wasted career day. While Andre Hollins had a three-minute hot stretch in the first half, and then went ice cold in the second, Walker was busy playing his way to his best game of the season on a day when his parents were present for senior day. He was the catalyst throughout, dominating the paint, finishing with a new career-high 26 points and 11 rebonds – his third double-double – and getting to the line 14 times, also a career high. Unfortunately for Walker, something that has often been the case this season, he couldn’t find enough support around him.