Vince Edwards, Purdue's hero from the start, hit a pair of free throws with eight seconds left, ending the Gophers' last surge, and the No. 21 Boilermakers walked out of Williams Arena sweating but 68-64 winners on Wednesday night.
The Gophers, meanwhile, lost their 10th consecutive game — Minnesota's longest skid since 1986-87, when the Gophers dropped 16 in a row — and 13th of the past 14 in nerve-racking fashion once again, falling short in a decrepit performance from the free-throw line.
The Gophers, living on a game of runs, were on the right end of the seesaw with 68 seconds left, when center Bakary Konate's layup brought Minnesota back within 65-63. But after A.J. Hammons turned over the ball with 49 seconds to go, the Gophers couldn't find the shot they wanted on the next possession, calling a timeout before ultimately settling for an off-the-mark three-point attempt from Carlos Morris. Purdue took the gift and won the game on free throws.
"I'm sounding like a broken record," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. "But I think they're getting better."
Sophomore Nate Mason led the Gophers with 15 points and a career-high 12 assists and freshman Dupree McBrayer added 13 points and five rebounds, carrying Minnesota through a slow first half.
The Gophers, after trailing 33-26 at halftime, quickly fell behind by 11 at 47-36 with 13:04 remaining before picking a fight once more. Mason's jumper capped a 16-6 run and pulled the Gophers within 53-52 with 8:43 to go.
But the Gophers couldn't bridge the gap.
Freshman Jordan Murphy went to the line with 6:42 left and a chance to give Minnesota its first lead since 20 seconds into the game, but he missed both, a symbol of the Gophers' night. They managed to make only 11 of 21 attempts from the foul stripe.
"That was for sure the most frustrating pair I've missed," Murphy said. "I don't know what it is, I think we're all really nervous at the line. I think that speaks for all of us. We missed 10 free throws? That just can't happen, especially in games like that. We hit five more, we win."
Minnesota missed four of six free throws in the last seven minutes while Purdue made six of eight to hold control.
Purdue, the first of four ranked opponents Minnesota will see in six games, was without 6-9, 250-pound freshman Caleb Swanigan — the Big Ten's rebounding leader — after the forward injured an ankle in the team's previous game at Iowa.
But surprisingly, the major frontcourt mismatch was not the story of the night. Although Minnesota outscored Purdue 46-28 in the paint, Edwards set the tone from the wing, exploding for 14 points and six rebounds in the first half and finishing with 24 and eight.
Despite a sluggish offensive start and a total of two points from Murphy and senior Joey King, Minnesota trailed by only seven at the break after Edwards followed the Gophers' 10-2 run with a putback at the halftime buzzer.
It was the first of a flurry of charges that would all fall just short.
"You've got two freshmen out there, you've got a sophomore and a senior, we're going to make mistakes, but that's not an excuse," McBrayer said. "We've got to grow up fast and we've got to grow up on the fly."