When the latest Top 25 poll came out Monday, there were some Gophers fans shocked their team didn’t get ranked for the first time this season, especially after a big upset at Wisconsin last week.
Other Gophers faithful didn’t want the ranking yet, because it could be the kiss of death.
The ranking never came, but the loss did.
Maryland’s Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith combined for 48 points and Minnesota missed 14 free throws to watch their six-game winning streak end abruptly in a 82-67 loss Tuesday in front of an announced crowd of 9,919 at Williams Arena.
“Clearly we let our poor free-throw shooting affect things we can control,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “Anytime you shoot 39 percent from the free-throw line, you better be even better defensively. We allowed that to zap our energy, and they made big plays.”
The Gophers (12-3, 2-2 Big Ten) suffered their first loss at the Barn this season after allowing Maryland to shoot 69.6 percent from the field (16-for-23) in the second half, while shooting an abysmal 9-for-23 on free throws, including 4-for-14 in the second half.
Minnesota led 54-47 on Eric Curry’s jumper with 14:28 left in the second half, but Maryland went on a 22-7 run to take control.
The Terrapins (13-3, 4-1) trailed by as many as eight points to open the second half, but they went to a 2-3 zone and fought back to take a 69-61 lead after a layup with 5:21 to play from Cowan, who had 23 of his 27 points in the second half.
Amir Coffey’s three-pointer made it 69-65 with 4:28 left. Maryland answered with a deep three from Cowan, followed a minute later with a drive and dunk from Smith, who had a career-high 21 points and eight rebounds.
The Terrapins used their athleticism and length to win the rebounding battle 39-28, but they also shot 24-for-27 from the foul line.
Coffey finished with 11 of his team-high 16 points in the second half, but he went 3-for-8 on foul shots. The horrendous night at the line and a lack of stops sealed the U’s first loss since falling 79-59 at Ohio State on Dec. 2.
“We pretty much didn’t handle the last three minutes of the game the way we should have,” said Jordan Murphy, who was held to nine points on 3-for-9 foul shooting.
After beating Wisconsin last Thursday in Madison for the first time since 2009, the Gophers failed to keep the momentum going to start what seemed like a favorable stretch of games.
Pitino’s team still should be favored in the next three games, with Saturday’s game against Rutgers at home, Illinois on the road and back home against Penn State. But anything can happen in a tough league slate this season, especially when missed foul shots make it tougher to score.
The Gophers entered Tuesday ranked fourth in the nation and first in the Big Ten with 27.7 free throws attempted per game, but they were shooting 67.5 percent.
“I wouldn’t say their zone really did anything to us,” Dupree McBrayer said. “It caught us off guard, but it’s just not being confident at the free-throw line.”