The Gophers men’s basketball team came within one shot of turning the momentum on a rocky start to the Big Ten schedule.
Instead, a last-second possession was misdirected and the Gophers’ promotional “blackout” in their season opener turned a deflated black-clad crowd into a funeral procession.
Still, after his team charged back from a 12-point deficit in the second half to force overtime, coach Richard Pitino found cause for optimism in the Gophers’ rough start in the conference after falling to No. 22 Ohio State 74-72 on Tuesday night.
“I thought tonight was the most heart we showed of any of the games,” Pitino said. “We’re getting there, but we’ve got to find a way to win.”
The Gophers (11-5 overall, 0-3 Big Ten) were right there.
Trailing by three at 72-69 with 25 seconds left in overtime, freshman guard Nate Mason — who had missed a chance to win the game at the end of regulation — converted a three-point play to tie the score. Marc Loving, who had just been responsible for fouling Mason on his layup, made good on his shot at redemption, hitting a midrange jumper to give Ohio State (13-3, 2-1) the lead with six seconds to play.
The Gophers had one more chance. Eschewing a final timeout for point guard DeAndre Mathieu’s effectiveness in the open court, Pitino let his team fly back up the court. After driving past halfcourt, Mathieu tried to kick it back to forward Joey King, who was waiting near the top of the key. But ever-active Shannon Scott got a hand on the pass, leaving the Gophers to scramble as time ran out.
“I was trying to get it back to [King] but Shannon Scott made a [heck] of a play and deflected the ball,” Mathieu said.
The game marked a second missed opportunity for victory of Big Ten play for Minnesota, which held a 13-point lead at Purdue in the road opener.
Tuesday, Minnesota looked overmatched at the half, falling behind 41-29 after allowing Ohio State freshman D’Angelo Russell to score 25 of his game-high 27 points.
After the break, however, it was a different story. Mathieu, Mason and Andre Hollins — whose second-half three pointer made him the first Gophers player to collect at least 1,500 career points and 300 assists — teamed up to trap Russell on ball screens and deny him altogether. The versatile Buckeyes guard went 0-for-5 from the field after the break.
“It’s a pride thing then,” Mathieu said. “To let a guy score 25 in the first half and then he’s running around smiling. You don’t allow that on your home floor.”
With Russell at bay, the Gophers made their move.
Minnesota pulled within three at 60-57 when Hollins and center Mo Walker sank four free throws following a double technical by Amir Williams. Then King buried a three-pointer to tie the score 60-60 with 6:20 to play.
Following a pair of Sam Thompson dunks, the Gophers trailed 66-65 when Ohio State fouled Mason with 31 seconds left in regulation. The freshman made only one of two shots, but Amir Williams whiffed on a shot underneath the basket on the Buckeyes’ final possession, sending the game to overtime.
The Gophers head back on the road this weekend, trying to flip the early trends at Michigan.
“I like their effort,” Pitino said of his team. “I’m still positive that we’re heading in the right direction. It’s disappointing, certainly, but we’ve just got to rebound and stay positive.”