SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – Joey King pumped his fists. Charles Buggs screamed into the camera. A small contingency of Gophers fans clumped in a spacious Caribbean arena finally found reason to fill the vacuum with cheers as coach Richard Pitino became animated on the sidelines.
But Minnesota’s celebration was brief Thursday. Almost immediately after building up a six-point lead late in the second half against Temple, the Gophers fell apart.
“We were on an emotional high, things were going great, we were rolling,” King said. “And then we had a few hiccups, a couple bad shots, stepped out of bounds a few times and we were never really able to rebound.”
The Owls took advantage, surging ahead when Devin Coleman drilled a second three-pointer to bookend a 13-2 run. The Gophers, struggling with turnovers and rebounding, didn’t have an answer, and moments later Temple had won the first game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, 75-70.
The Gophers, 2-1, don’t have time to dwell on their defeat: They play Missouri State on Friday morning (9:30 a.m. Central), less than 24 hours after the loss. Missouri State stumbled out of the gate against No. 22 Butler in the game following the Gophers’ loss at Roberto Clemente Coliseum and trailed 49-25 at the half. Butler cruised from there, winning 93-59.
Cold-shooting Minnesota didn’t start much better. In a game that began at 10:30 a.m. Central, the Gophers looked sleepy at the start. The early shots rattled out, the clangs echoing above the crowd of several hundred fans. Poor perimeter defense was carried over from the mainland, as Temple hit eight three-pointers in the first 23 minutes.
The Gophers trailed by nine near the midpoint of the second half before their young starters awakened. Nate Mason, who had a team-high 20 points and five assists, helped ignite the comeback.
Sophomore center Bakary Konate converted a three-point play and followed that with another nice move, a jump hook. King’s floater then gave the Gophers their greatest advantage of the day at 56-50 with 8 minutes, 20 seconds to play.
Minnesota’s bench was buoyant at that point, waving at the small crowd to get loud after having watched uninspired play for most of the game. Yet even with Jaylen Bond, Temple’s heavy hitter, suddenly quiet, the Gophers found other ways to flounder.
The Gophers turned over the ball four times in a 2:41 stretch. They watched Temple grab three critical offensive rebounds in the final two minutes. Still, with 27 seconds on the clock, Mason hit a pair of free throws, giving the Gophers a fighting chance at 71-68. Pitino tried to stop the action then, but he was told he was out of timeouts. Unable to regroup, the Gophers missed their final two shots and Temple’s Josh Brown hit four free throws to secure the win.
“They told us we had two timeouts — we went to the table to check,” Pitino said. “Then later [after calling one timeout], they said you have no timeouts. I have not seen that one before — that’s a new one. But I don’t know if that affected the end of the game.”
Temple, an NIT team last season with a 26-11 record, improved to 1-1 this season with its loss coming to No. 1 North Carolina in the opener. The Owls iced Thursday’s tropical game from the free-throw line, scoring their final six from the stripe.
“They’re a tough matchup because they’ve got so many guys who can take you off the bounce,” Pitino said. “We tried to do a couple different things to stop them. But at the end of the day, they just made plays and we didn’t.”