COLLEGE PARK, MD. – Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to Selection Sunday, especially when you’re a team on the NCAA tournament bubble.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino told his men’s basketball players to treat their regular-season finale Friday night as if they wanted to leave no doubt in the selection committee’s mind they deserved to be in the Big Dance.
Instead, the Gophers did exactly the opposite, going from the season’s best victory earlier in the week to a dud of a performance in a 69-60 loss against No. 24 Maryland at the Xfinity Center.
Amir Coffey got off to a slow start but still finished with 23 points and six assists for the Gophers (19-12, 9-11 Big Ten), who weren’t able to build momentum off Tuesday’s victory over No. 11 Purdue.
Short on answers after the game, Pitino avoided addressing his team’s NCAA selection chances.
“We’ve talked about it before,” he said. “We lost to a very good team. There’s nothing more you can do. You just go get better.”
The Big Ten tournament is next week, so senior Jordan Murphy said the team is set on winning it all. Minnesota will open Thursday as either the seventh or eighth seed, depending the outcome on Ohio State’s game Sunday vs. Wisconsin.
“As far as reaching our goal of the NCAA tournament,” said Murphy, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds, “we need to make a run in the [Big Ten] tournament and just be positive, confident and know what we’ve got to do.”
Anthony Cowan Jr. had 12 of his 21 points in the first half for Maryland. Jalen Smith added 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (22-9, 13-7), who scored 18 points on 13 Minnesota turnovers.
The big question Gophers fans want to know now: Has their team already done enough to receive one of the 36 at-large bids?
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBSSports’ Jerry Palm both had Minnesota as a No. 10 seed in Jacksonville, Fla., in their mock bracket projections before Friday’s loss.
Falling to one of the top-tier teams in the Big Ten wasn’t going to hurt much at all. In fact, it was more about the U missing out on another signature victory, dropping its Quadrant 1 record to 3-9 this season.
The Gophers finish the regular season below .500 in the Big Ten for the eighth time in the past nine seasons, including the fifth in Pitino’s tenure.
Conference record isn’t on the selection committee’s team sheet, though. What will be judged are Minnesota’s Quad 1 wins (Washington, at Wisconsin, Purdue), Quad 2 record (7-3), worst losses (no Quad 3 or Quad 4 losses), NET ranking (No. 54), schedule strength (No. 51) and other metrics.
With one of the weakest bubbles in recent memory, the strength of the Big Ten alone could end up getting the Gophers in the field of 68.
Losing seven of the past 10 games, though, the Gophers often didn’t look the part of an NCAA tourney team, including Friday night. They led for only the first 55 seconds of the game.
The Terrapins (22-9, 13-7) dominated the outset of the second meeting more than they did the first (an 82-67 victory Jan. 8 at Williams Arena) by holding Minnesota to 27 percent shooting in the first half.
After trailing 34-22 at halftime, the Gophers let the deficit get to 19 points before Murphy’s second three-pointer of the game cut it to 43-30.
With their crowd still energized on Senior Night, Maryland used a 11-2 run to take a 54-32 lead after a three-pointer from Darryl Morsell near the 13-minute mark.
Facing the biggest deficit of the game, Pitino called a timeout, but Coffey committed a careless turnover on the next possession.
It was a sequence that summed up a frustrating night for the Gophers, 2-9 on the road this season.
Coffey, who was the first Gophers player in 14 years to have back-to-back 30-point games in wins vs. Northwestern and Purdue, didn’t score his first basket until 6:33 left in the first half. Minnesota was already down 14 points.
Coffey’s 17 second-half points came mostly during Minnesota’s 13-2 run in the last 3:51 when the game was basically out of reach.
The Gophers were outscored 36-18 in points in the paint and shot only 38 percent from the field.
“I don’t think it was really a letdown,” freshman center Daniel Oturu said. “We just have to take care of the ball better, play harder on D and be more of a collective group.”