LINCOLN, NEB. – One game after the Gophers suffered their worst-ever home loss to Northwestern, coach Richard Pitino switched up the starting lineup at Nebraska, benching his two seniors in favor of an all-freshman and sophomore first five.
But new look or not, Minnesota had no answers once again at Pinnacle Bank Arena, disintegrating in an 84-59 loss to Nebraska, matching last year’s 0-5 start to Big Ten play. The defeat was the Gophers’ sixth in a row and their ninth in the past 10 games. Minnesota, which never had started back-to-back conference schedules with five losses, has dropped its past two games by a total of 50 points.
As the clock ran out on the Gophers’ final possession — in a game in which they trailed by 30 or more points for nearly 12 minutes of the second half — the players dropped the ball, ignoring a shot-clock violation before the buzzer.
Afterward, Pitino called the team “extremely unconfident” and said the Gophers’ offensive, defensive and rebounding struggles are the “recipe to lose a lot of games.”
“We’ve got a real problem with communication,” he said. “That’s why I went with that lineup … that lineup is the most connected.”
Freshman Jordan Murphy said he saw teammates hanging their heads early.
“I think a lot of people are just in their own heads right now,” he said. “We’re not really confident in ourselves, and we need to get that back somehow … I don’t know what it is. It’s a very confusing situation we have.”
Murphy was part of momentary spark of energy at the game’s start — when seniors Joey King and Carlos Morris sat and freshmen Ahmad Gilbert and Dupree McBrayer entered the lineup — but that evaporated as soon as Nebraska pushed back.
After the Gophers (6-11 overall) got out to an 8-4 lead, Nebraska (10-8, 2-3 Big Ten) began hitting shots and Minnesota crumbled. Plowing through the Gophers’ zone defense, the Huskers reeled off a 29-4 run to seize a 33-12 lead as Minnesota stumbled over the very basics.
The Gophers committed nine turnovers in the first 12:40, some from throwing the ball out of bounds or falling on the court. With just more than five minutes before halftime, four starters had two fouls.
“We had a segment of falling down, air balls, turnovers and it was like ‘What’s going on here, guys?’ ” Pitino said. “We tried to get them to regroup, but it’s hard.”
For the second consecutive game, the Gophers were buried before halftime, when they trailed 47-26. The 47 points were the most Nebraska had scored in a half in a conference game since 2002. The Huskers have won their past four home games against Minnesota.
Murphy had a bounce-back game after returning to his natural power forward position, but there were few brights spots aside from his 12-point, eight-rebound performance. The rest of the team combined to shoot only 15-for-41 from the field.
The Gophers managed only seven assists on 21 field goals, went 3-for-17 from three-point range and were outrebounded 40-22.
Nebraska continued its surge off the dribble in the second half. Pitino called a timeout with 9:17 to go and the Gophers trailing 76-40, but Jack McVeigh brought the Huskers’ advantage to 38 — their greatest of the night — with a layup, but Minnesota went on a 19-6 finishing run with Nebraska’s starters all on the bench.
“It stopped the bleeding,” Pitino said. “You’ve got to stop the bleeding — try to.”