MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers got their most complete half of the season when they needed it the most Wednesday night, but they needed more to put away Big Ten-leading Maryland.
There weren’t many home games when everything seemed to go in their favor. Even when Richard Pitino’s teams were playing extremely well, it eventually got tight in the end.
Minnesota fans had experienced collapses down the stretch recently in back-to-back losses to Iowa and Indiana that hurt their team’s NCAA tournament hopes. This one likely stung the most.
That sour taste of missed opportunities continued when Darryl Morsell’s three-pointer with 1.9 seconds left sunk the Gophers’ chances at a monumental upset in a 74-73 loss against the No. 9 Terrapins on Wednesday at Williams Arena.
The Gophers (13-14, 7-10) had a chance to extend their lead with 12 seconds left, but Gabe Kalscheur missed the front end of a 1-and-1. That gave Maryland (23-5, 13-4) all the time it needed.
On a broken play, Minnesota cut off Anthony Cowan Jr.’s drive and shot in the corner, but he swung the ball when it eventually got to Morsell for the game-winning shot.
The Barn was a tough place to play Wednesday night for the Big Ten’s best team, but it also was a tense atmosphere with the game in the balance under a minute.
Daniel Oturu had a team-best 28 points for the Gophers, but even the star center’s impressive effort didn’t make it easy to watch Minnesota’s 17-point evaporate in the second half.
Morsell’s steal and dunk with 6:37 left to play drew jeers from the home crowd when the Gophers were barely holding on to a 64-60 advantage.
Pitino seemed helpless on the sidelines when his players fell apart being blanked in the last several minutes in gut-wrenching losses to the Hawkeyes and Hoosiers at the Barn earlier this month.
It seemed like a case of déjà vu when Oturu and company struggled to handle Maryland’s late pressure. The three-pointers weren’t falling a regularly as they were in the first half, so the Gophers were in disarray in the halfcourt set.
Marcus Carr, who had 19 points, broke the school record for single-season assists with his 180th dish to Gabe Kalscheur for a three-pointer to make it 54-38 at 15:54. The Gophers were outscored 22-10 with six turnovers in the next nine minutes.
Oturu’s two free throws gave the Gophers an eight-point plead with two minutes remaining, but it wasn’t enough of a cushion Wednesday.
In the first seven-plus minutes, the Gophers jumped out to a 21-8 lead with six of their first seven field goals on three-pointers, including four consecutive threes to open the game.
The Big Ten’s most talented team had its sights set on strengthening a hold on first place in the league standings. The Terrapins had recently been on a nine-game winning streak when some NCAA tourney projections had them as a possible No. 1 seed. They looked Wednesday like they didn’t know what hit them.
Minnesota’s three-point barrage carried over from the 14 three-pointers drilled in Sunday’s 83-57 win at Northwestern. There was a surprise contributor this time. Freshman Isaiah Ihnen, who returned from a wrist injury, scored nine points on three of the team’s seven three-pointers in the first half.
Carr and Oturu combined for 30 points in the first half to lead the Gophers to a 47-31 halftime time lead.
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