The No. 24/25 Nebraska men’s basketball team led by double-digits with 10 minutes to play Wednesday night at Minnesota, but the Huskers could not hold the lead down the stretch in an 85-78 loss to the Golden Gophers at Williams Arena.
Nebraska (7-2, 1-1) led for much of the game and was on top 67-56 midway through the second half. But the Husker offense went cold from there and Minnesota’s offense caught fire, as the Gophers (7-2, 1-1) outscored Nebraska 29-11 over the game’s final 10 minutes. During that stretch, Nebraska was just 3-of-12 from the field, while Minnesota was 9-of-16.
The Gophers used a 9-0 run to turn a five-point deficit into a 77-73 lead with 2:26 remaining, and the Huskers were never able to get closer than two the rest of the way. Minnesota won by shooting 51.8 percent from the field – including 57.1 percent in the second half – becoming the first Husker opponent in 35 games to shoot better than 50 percent.
Amir Coffey paced the Gopher offense with a career-high 32 points, including 18 in the second half. Jordan Murphy had a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds, with 12 of his points coming in the second half.
Nebraska shot 45.9 percent on the game, but the Huskers hit only 38 percent of their shots in the second half. It was a balanced night offensively for the Big Red as six Huskers finished with at least nine points. Isaac Copeland had 17 points and Isaiah Roby added 15 points, but both players fouled out down the stretch. Glynn Watson Jr. had 14 points and James Palmer Jr. rounded out Nebraska’s double-figure scorers with 11 points, but he was held scoreless in the second half while missing all seven of his shots. Thomas Allen Jr. and Brady Heiman scored nine points apiece.
Things started out well as Nebraska scored on five of its first six possessions to start the game. A pair of 6-0 runs gave Nebraska a 12-4 lead and forced a Minnesota timeout less than three minutes into the contest. The timeout did not slow down NU’s offense, as the Huskers stretched the lead to 19-10 three minutes later.
The Huskers’ offensive efficiency kept Minnesota at bay, as Nebraska maintained its nine-point advantage when Allen knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 28-19 with 9:19 left in the first half.
But following Allen’s three, Nebraska’s offense hit a lull over the next five minutes, allowing Minnesota to go on a 15-4 run to take a 36-32 lead. Coffey scored 11 straight Gopher points during the run, while Heiman accounted for all four Husker points.
Heiman then delivered a key offensive rebound that sparked a half-ending run for the Huskers. Heiman’s rebound led to a pair of Palmer free throws, snapping NU’s nearly four-minute scoring drought. Palmer went to the line after he drew a foul on Coffey, which forced Coffey to the bench for the final 4:11 of the half with three fouls.
With Coffey on the bench, Nebraska closed the half on a 10-3 run, turning a two-point deficit into a five-point halftime lead. Palmer (six points) and Heiman (four points) combined to score all 10 points during the run, while Nebraska held Minnesota without a field goal for the final 2:57 of the half. Palmer led the Huskers with 11 first-half points, and Nebraska forced eight first-half turnovers which led to a 15-3 Husker advantage in points off turnovers.
After closing the first half on a 10-3 run, Nebraska opened the second half on a 7-1 spurt to build its first double-digit lead at 51-40 two minutes into the period. The Huskers extended the lead to 13 one minute later on a pair of Watson free throws.
Nebraska continued to lead by double digits until the Gophers went on a 6-0 run during a three-minute Husker scoring drought, trimming the lead to 58-50 with 13 minutes remaining. Roby ended the run with a pair of free throws before the teams began trading baskets.
The Huskers led 67-56 at the 10-minute mark following a Nana Akenten 3-pointer. But Nebraska’s offense went cold from there, as the Huskers hit only three field goals and scored just 11 points over the final 10 minutes.
A three-minute scoring drought allowed Minnesota to trim the lead to four before Watson nailed a jumper to put the Huskers on top 71-65 with 4:57 to play. The Huskers then went nearly three more minutes without scoring, but Minnesota was not able to cut into the deficit until a game-changing run.
Trailing by five, Dupree McBrayer hit a 3-pointer and Minnesota knocked down four consecutive free throws to take their first lead of the second half at 74-73. Coffey then capped a 9-0 Gopher run in a span of just 1:49 to give Minnesota a 77-73 lead with 2:24 to play.
Watson snapped the run with a driving basket to pull the Huskers within two but Minnesota scored four of the next five points to build a five-point lead. Copeland responded with a driving layup that brought it back to a one-possession game at 81-78 with 43.8 seconds left. But Nebraska missed a pair of late 3-pointers and Minnesota hit all four of its free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
Nebraska returns to action on Saturday, when the Huskers host Creighton at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Tipoff between the Huskers and Bluejays is set for 5 p.m. and the game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.