The Gophers men’s basketball team really needed a Big Ten win and their unlikeliest scorers helped make that seem possible in a big moment Saturday at Williams Arena.
Taurus Samuels — who hadn’t scored a single point in three of the previous four games — wasn’t a primary option on a play late in regulation, but he hit a corner 3-pointer with four seconds left to tie Nebraska 67-67. The transfer from Dartmouth uncorked a fist pump from the block M at half court, and the clutch shot stood up as pivotal after Sam Griesel’s last-second heave was off the mark for Nebraska to force overtime.
Jamison Battle — whom the Gophers expect to hit big shots — tied the score again with a trey with 1:17 left in the extra session, but Nebraska continued to win in the post and then at the free-throw line to eke out a 81-79 victory at The Barn.
It wass the Gophers’ second consecutive loss by one possession, following Tuesday’s 63-60 defeat at No. 14 Wisconsin, and they fell to 0-4 in the conference this season.
“It’s almost a little bit of a broken record,” head coach Ben Johnson said. “The positive, I told them, was they feel bad because they gave themselves a chance to win, so that’s the good part. Sometimes you don’t have that feeling of remorse because you don’t have a chance to win.”
Nebraska (9-7, 2-3) was a three-point road favorite and used a 48-32 advantage in points in the paint, including Juwan Gary’s putback with 55 seconds left, to help seal Minnesota’s defeat. The Cornhuskers made nine more free throws than the Gophers, including six more in OT.
The Gophers and Cornhuskers tied for last place in the Big Ten last season, but Minnesota (6-8, 0-4 Big Ten) is alone in last place this season after Saturday’s loss.
The back-and-fourth game provided entertainment for Williams Arena’s best crowd of the season, which was announced at 10,948, The Gophers wore 1970s gold throwback jerseys and introduced more than 40 former players at halftime. They had approximately 25 alums for the event last season.
“You obviously want to perform for the alumni, for what they’ve done in the past,” said Battle, who finished with a team-high 20 points. “But I think it’s just focus on us, and that is the biggest thing with people in the locker room and that’s who you see every day. … You want to go out there and support them, and I think we did that (Saturday by) just playing hard regardless of the outcome.”
After committing a season-high 20 turnovers against the Badgers, Minnesota had only one turnover through the opening 20 minutes against the Cornhuskers. Minnesota had six turnovers in second half, with two costly ones from Ta’Lon Cooper in the last five minutes; both led to Derrick Walker buckets for a 65-61 lead.
Walker, whom Johnson called one of the better big men in the conference, led all scorers with 22 points. Minnesota had trouble double-teaming Walker with him often in the middle of the court.
Dawson Garcia battled foul trouble, and Minnesota struggled to score without him on the court. The 6-foot-11 forward ended up fouling out with 1:39 left in overtime after producing 19 points and 15 rebounds, but not enough teammates helped out on the glass as Minnesota was out-rebounded by 10.
The Gophers led 39-33 at the half after making 50 percent of their 3-point shots (6 for 12), with Garcia and Battle making two apiece. Minnesota cooled off in the second half, making only 4 of 15 from deep.
Saturday’s game was an opportunity lost for Minnesota, considering the Gophers have to go back on the road to No. 23 Ohio State on Thursday.
“That’s the biggest thing: just to keep showing up, regardless of what happens,” Battle said. “We’re 0-4 in Big Ten but have to keep showing up.”