Despite a game full of shortcomings, there they were.
The Gophers had the ball with 11 seconds on the clock and a basket standing between them and a badly needed victory to ease their season back onto its tracks.
Instead, they found themselves staring back at a two-game losing streak after a goofed-up final play handed Northwestern a 55-54 victory and left the Gophers stunned and crushed as they trudged to their locker room.
That final play began after the Wildcats missed their final shot.
DeAndre Mathieu — the Gophers' specialist in making contested shots at the basket — got the ball and drove past a high screen and to the hoop, flinging a shot at the backboard and rim. When it bounced off, center Mo Walker secured the rebound, but he shot it over the rim as time expired.
"I thought I did a good job of getting it to his body," Mathieu said. "I just know I hit the ground and saw Mo going back up."
Mathieu appeared to get bumped by Wildcats center Nikola Cerina, and with so much traffic in the paint, a foul could have easily been called. But as they had been for most of the game, the whistles were silent. In a year that has seen fouls go up substantially with new guidelines in place, the difference was noticeable — the two teams took just 16 combined trips to the free-throw line.
"Coach [Richard Pitino] said no comments on the refs," Mathieu said. "If I really gave what I thought, I'd be in trouble."
Pitino echoed his own directive, giving a succinct "no comment" when asked whether he thought there should have been a call.
The Gophers appear ed to be in good position to steal the victory after trailing by three at halftime.
With 3:47 to go, the Gophers had weathered a flurry of mistakes and missed free throws. Elliott Eliason got a steal and Austin Hollins followed with a Barn-rocking dunk to tie the score 50-50. Soon, Tre Demps nailed a three-pointer to give the Wildcats a 55-52 lead with 54 seconds left, and after Mathieu hit a layup to bring the Gophers within a point, Northwestern had the ball with 46 seconds to play.
Demps took it again, letting the clock run down before taking a shot that bounced hard off the backboard, giving the Gophers one more chance.
Ultimately, they let it slip away.
"It was such a bang-bang play, it was just two good looks," Eliason said. I don't know. I'm not the officials, I'm not the one making calls."
Andre Hollins update
Andre Hollins participated in warmups Saturday but still has a ways to go in his rehab, Pitino said. The guard, who suffered a severe ankle sprain against Wisconsin Jan. 22, has missed two games since and is "highly" doubtful for the Purdue game Wednesday, Pitino said.