Gophers outplayed from start to finish in crushing loss to Nebraska

LINCOLN, NEB. – Five years ago, the Gophers men's basketball team thought its NCAA tournament hopes were crushed with a last-second loss at Nebraska in February.

The Gophers still made the Big Dance, though, by picking up some quality wins in the final stretch of the regular season and in the Big Ten tournament.

Another late-season push needs to happen again soon for the Gophers after a missed résumé-building opportunity Sunday night in a 73-55 loss against the Cornhuskers in front of 15,920 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

It would be inaccurate to call Sunday a battle of NCAA tournament bubble teams because the Gophers (17-10, 8-8 Big Ten) haven't yet played themselves into the mix.

"When you're playing this time of the year for whatever it is — to keep a winning streak going or for the postseason — there is a level you have to reach competitive-wise," Gophers coach Ben Johnson said. "I just thought [Nebraska] set the bar really high."

The Huskers (20-8, 10-7) appear to be getting closer to securing their first NCAA bid in a decade after Juwan Gary and Brice Williams combined for 37 points to go with an impressive team defensive performance.

Big Ten men's basketball standings

A putrid Gophers offense traveled to Lincoln and shot only 31% from the field, including 6-for-23 shooting from three-point range. For the first time this season, they finished with more turnovers than assists (13-6).

"They were probably one of the most physical teams we've played this year," said Cam Christie, who led the Gophers with all of his 14 points in the second half. "They took us out of our rhythm. We were missing shots and not being physical, so that's not going to go well."

The Gophers won 76-65 on Dec. 6 against Nebraska at home, but they scored almost as many points (52) in the second half as Sunday's entire game.

Parker Fox scored eight points in the first half to keep the Gophers within 28-20 at halftime, but the Huskers outscored them 19-8 to open the second half.

A 21-point deficit was cut to 59-44 after Christie's three-point play with 8 minutes, 25 seconds remaining. The momentum was lost, though, when Dawson Garcia was called for a flagrant 1 foul on a basket from Josiah Allick around the eight-minute mark.

BOXSCORE: Nebraska 73, Gophers 55

Nebraska physically dominated a Gophers frontcourt of Garcia and Pharrel Payne that went from 37 points in Thursday's 88-79 win vs. Ohio State combined to only 13 points Sunday on 3-for-12 shooting.

Elijah Hawkins wasn't able to find good shots for himself or his teammates after a 24-point, seven-assist game vs. the Buckeyes. The nation's leader in assists coming into Sunday had nine points, two assists and three turnovers.

"It has to be a learning experience," Fox said. "That's a team that could make some noise in the NCAA tournament. They just kind of out-hustled us today."

Any realistic chance at an NCAA bid seemingly has to come from the Gophers picking up more road victories with two games left at Illinois on Wednesday and Northwestern on March 9.

"The intensity level and the physicality piece is something we just didn't handle," Johnson said. "That's what playing hard in the last two weeks of the season looks and feels like. If we can understand that and bottle that from here, it will definitely help us."