When the Gophers collapsed down the stretch in Wednesday’s frustrating 74-73 loss against No. 9 Maryland, there were a number of issues that caused another late-game meltdown.
Missed free throws. Missed rebounds. Missed shots.
It was the Gophers’ third consecutive home loss in which they appeared to have a chance to pull out a much-needed victory to boost their NCAA tournament hopes, only to suffer the reality that those mistakes likely will haunt them as time and opportunities run out this season.
“You have the conference tournament,” coach Richard Pitino said. “I don’t know. Let’s see Sunday [at Wisconsin] if we can get a win, get our composure back.”
Pitino mentioned costly free throws in the losses to Iowa and Maryland. Gabe Kalscheur missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 12 seconds left Wednesday that could have extended their 73-71 lead. Kalscheur and Marcus Carr combined to shoot 1-for-5 from the foul line in the second half vs. the Terrapins, including Carr missing the front end of a 1-and-1 with 24 seconds left. Daniel Oturu missed the first of two potential free throws to tie the score with 3.5 seconds left in the 58-55 loss Feb. 16 against Iowa.
Those errant free throws likely were harder to swallow than anything else, but what happened before them arguably cost the Gophers even more in those losses and other close games this season.
One theme was apparent in the tough home losses to Iowa, Indiana and Maryland. The best player on the Gophers, and maybe the best on the floor (unless it’s Iowa’s Luka Garza) in those games didn’t get the ball in crunch time enough to make an impact.
Where was Oturu? He was there, likely ready to take control if given the opportunity like he has many times this season. The 6-10 sophomore had 28 points on 10-for-13 shooting from the field, 6-for-6 shooting at the foul line and 11 rebounds against Maryland. Yet, Minnesota’s All-America candidate didn’t get a shot in the last six-plus minutes.
Oturu’s second-to-last field-goal attempt was a jumper to make it 66-60 Gophers with 6:17 to play. He hit two free throws after getting fouled on a put-back to make it 72-64 with 2:06 left. That was the last time he touched the ball until a desperation heave as time expired following Darryl Morsell’s game-winning three with 1.9 seconds to play. Maryland ended the last two minutes on a 10-1 run.
In the loss against Indiana, Oturu had no shots in the last 1:29. The Gophers were outscored 8-0 in the final 2:15. In the Iowa loss, Oturu had no shots in the last 6:06. The Gophers were outscored 11-0 in the final 5:25.
It was the third time this season the Gophers lost when leading with five minutes remaining in regulation (they were 17-1 in those games last year). The other such loss came 83-78 in double overtime at Purdue on Jan. 2. Oturu had no shots in the last 8:42 of the second half in that game when a five-point Minnesota lead evaporated with 3:20 left.
Who decides if Oturu gets scoring touches in crunch time? It seems to be up to the Gophers coaches to tell Marcus Carr to feed their go-to guy on screen-and-rolls or in the post.
Pitino puts a lot of pressure on Carr to deliver late in games, as does the talented point guard on himself. But playing the most minutes in the Big Ten might make it difficult to carry a team alone down the stretch. Oturu can help Carr out in that area, but it’s obviously too late for games that got away.
Marcus Fuller covers college basketball for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @Marcus_R_Fuller
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