COLLEGE PARK, MD. – Now a fifth-year senior, it's a scene Mo Walker has witnessed too many times.
Bags packed. Faces down. He and his Gophers men's basketball teammates journeying silently to the airport after trudging out of an unfamiliar arena in familiar fashion.
On Saturday, it was No. 12 Maryland — an athletic, talented and deep team — playing the role of Big Ten host and Gophers killer. Outside of a scrappy, post-oriented run by the visitors late in the first half, the Terrapins controlled the game from start to finish, blowing past the Gophers 70-58.
Although it was Maryland's first home game ever in its new league after 61 years in the Atlantic Coast Conference, for the Gophers — coming on the heels of a late-game collapse at Purdue — it felt a little like old hat.
"We've had a history of not being able to pull out games on the road," Walker said, speaking in low tones with his head tucked. "And it's almost like we're continuing that history. But we just need to shake it off and we'll bounce back."
To be clear, a Gophers victory at Maryland would have been a big upset.
But losing at Maryland (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten) doesn't help to dispel a pesky trend that has dogged Walker and his teammates for the past five years. An 0-2 start only makes the road ahead tougher and more urgent.
Since Walker arrived in Dinkytown, the Gophers have managed only eight road victories on the conference schedule to 30 losses.
This one didn't long threaten to budge the ratio.
The Gophers (11-4, 0-2) trailed 32-17 with 7 minutes, 33 seconds to go before halftime, but went on a 13-0 run to pull within two. After Maryland ended its drought with back-to-back baskets, Joey King's corner three-pointer just before the halftime buzzer put the Gophers within three.
But in the second half, Maryland quickly built its lead back up to double digits, and while the Gophers had chances, they never seriously managed to threaten the physical, athletic Terrapins.
A first-half inside-out game plan went cold in the second. The Gophers' ball-sharing ways in nonconference play looked like a distant memory. Carlos Morris scored 18 points but did so on an inefficient 7-for-21 performance, while senior guard Andre Hollins managed just two points. Walker was double-teamed for much of the last 20 minutes, when he attempted only four shots. Meanwhile, Maryland went 20-for-28 from the free-throw line while while the Gophers went 11-for-21.
"I think it's a top-10 team in the country on the road," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. "I think it's pretty simple. We got beat by a top-10 team in the country on the road. A very talented team and a very well-coached team.
"We knew these first two games would be very difficult. We're excited to go back home. We need to go back home and get some confidence back."
Next up: No. 20 Ohio State on Tuesday at home.
The Buckeyes aren't likely to be very welcoming either, but with Ohio State looking shaky after falling at home to Iowa in its Big Ten opener, the matchup represents a critical opportunity for the Gophers to flip around their 0-2 start and avoid a deep tumble on the stretch that follows.
After Ohio State, which beat Illinois on Saturday, the Gophers play at Michigan before returning home to face the improving Hawkeyes. Lose to the Buckeyes and the Gophers could be staring at a five-game slide.
In his first season in the Big Ten, Morris, a junior-college transfer, swiftly is learning those realities. The Gophers' two conference foes handled them in a far different manner than their nonconference foes did.
"It's tough, man," Morris said. "It's tough to win, it doesn't matter where you're at. And it's definitely tough to win on the road, you can have a lead and you just lose it like that.
"We didn't want to lose two in a row so we sure don't want to lose three in a row … we've got to defend our home court."
Morris, Walker and the rest of a veteran-laden team say they are hungry for the conference success that has eluded them throughout their college careers. That much — seen in their all-too-often trudges to the bus — is obvious. The next three games will go a long way in foreshadowing whether the Gophers will break out, finally.
"It's adversity," Walker said. "It's about how you respond and we didn't respond these two games. We had an opportunity to do something big with Purdue and with Maryland but we just didn't bring it."