Richard Pitino buried his face in his hands.
With fractions of a second left on the clock, Jordan Murphy's first of two free throws clanked off the rim, the fifth of seven Gophers attempts in the final 24 seconds to do so.
The Gophers led Nebraska Omaha by only two points. The freshman's miss left the door open — one more time — for the Mavericks to harness just a little more of the magic that had kept them on top through much of Friday.
But Murphy connected on the final free throw and snatched up a Hail Mary pass at the end, enabling the Gophers to hang on 93-90 in a game that had blood pressures boiling on the Williams Arena sideline.
"That may have been one of the tougher games to coach," Pitino said afterward, still exhaling. "We had so many opportunities, I thought, to end it and we just kept doing it."
The Gophers (4-2) gift-wrapped what could have been a storybook ending for Omaha before an announced 9,976 after Nate Mason watched one free throw, and a chance to stretch a tenuous 90-89 lead, ricochet off the rim with 24 seconds to go. He hit the second, but 12 seconds later, after the Mavericks failed to score, he went to the line again, this time missing both. Murphy let the trend continue, missing the first on both of his two trips.
"You feel a little bit of pressure always down the stretch when it gets to the closing minute," Murphy said. "But I think I'm getting more comfortable at the line."
Omaha (3-3), the aggressor for most of the game, couldn't take advantage, especially after watching leading scorer Jake White foul out with just over two minutes to go. On each possession after Mason's trips to the line, the Mavericks got two attempts at the bucket but couldn't connect.
Tra-Deon Hollins went to the line a final time with two seconds left and Omaha down three, making the first before intentionally missing the second — but Murphy grabbed the rebound.
"We just had to get stops," Murphy said. "We did a good job of defending down the stretch."
For almost every other Gophers run, for every big Gophers basket, Omaha had an answer. The Mavericks led 42-41 at the break, shot 56.3 percent from the floor in the first half and often scored within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, collecting 23 points in transition to the Gophers' two.
With 12 minutes to go, the Gophers had built a 66-60 lead, but Omaha followed with a 10-0 run. When Joey King's three-pointer put the Gophers up 80-75 with just over five minutes left, White soon responded with a three of his own. When Murphy dunked in consecutive possessions, White, a Chaska High School product who finished with 23 points, came back with two layups, including a three-point play.
But the Gophers, who had five players finish in double digits led by 18 from King and 17 from Carlos Morris, executed when it mattered. They had only nine turnovers to 21 assists and hit 11 three-pointers on 20 attempts.
Spirits were high in the locker room afterward, despite the near miss.
"This is kind of a young team," said King, who went 4-for-4 from three-point range. "We're going to win ugly sometimes, and we recognize that. … We're probably not going to have a lot of 20-point wins. It's going to be ugly, it's going to be six points. So we're just going to have to lock in and focus in those last five minutes."
That might be, but it has Pitino nervous enough with several other less-than-pushover guarantee games scheduled in the next month.
Strength and conditioning coach Shaun Brown came up to the coach after heartbeats dropped with a message, only half joking, Pitino said.
"Don't ever schedule them ever again," he said.