U edged by Wisconsin 61-59 after second-half rally falls short

Gophers coach Ben Johnson had several players who hadn't played in the heated Border Battle with the Badgers, but he made sure everyone knew what was at stake.

Not only was Tuesday night's matchup a chance to end a losing streak, but the Gophers had an opportunity to pick up the biggest win during Johnson's tenure.

Despite having a lead with 30 seconds left and a close range shot to send the game into overtime, the Gophers couldn't stop No. 13 Wisconsin from leaving them with disappointment in a 61-59 loss in front of an announced crowd of 10,013 at Williams Arena.

Since Johnson took over Minnesota's program in 2021-22, his teams have lost five straight games against Wisconsin by six points or fewer.

"You'd think at some point here soon the basketball Gods are finally going to shine down on us," Johnson said. These guys have done everything we've asked. You just think at some point we got to get a little bit of luck."

All the breaks just seem to go the other way late Tuesday night, including a potential game-tying shot by Mike Mitchell Jr. after he rebounded his own intentional miss as time expired.

"Had a great opportunity to make it," Johnson said. "That did everything but go in."

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The Gophers (12-7, 3-5 Big Ten) hadn't beaten Wisconsin since the 2019-20 season, but Braeden Carrington hit 1-of-2 free throws for a 58-57 lead with 30 seconds to play. Every miss was critical. They went 5-for-13 from the foul line, including 2-for-7 in the second half.

"I feel like down the stretch we got to hit them," Carrington said. "We shoot them everyday. Not seeing them fall definitely sucks, but we've got to step up in those moments."

Elijah Hawkins returned from an ankle injury to lead the Gophers with 16 points and nine assists. But leading scorer Dawson Garcia was held to 10 points and missed his only free throw attempt on a technical foul shot with a minute left.

"We can't hang our heads," Garcia said. "We've got to move forward. But obviously it stings, so it's hard for me to even process that right now."

The Big Ten-leading Badgers (15-4, 7-1) didn't flinch late with four free throws in the last 26 seconds to seal the seventh straight win in the rivalry. Former Lakeville North standout Tyler Wahl led Wisconsin with 16 points.

BOXSCORE: Wisconsin 61, Gophers 59

A.J. Storr, who finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, allowed the Gophers to take the lead under a minute after picking up a technical for hanging on the rim to dunk a rebound.

Storr redeemed himself when he gave the Badgers the lead back for good after hitting two free throws after drawing the foul on Pharrel Payne.

After facing a 10-point halftime deficit, the Gophers took a 46-45 lead after back-to-back threes from Mitchell and Cam Christie. That made them 6-for-6 shooting from three to open the second half after outscoring Wisconsin 22-11.

Johnson's team came to life behind Hawkins' energy and fast-paced play in the second half, which was missing with him sidelined in last Thursday's 76-66 loss at Michigan State.

The Gophers were in a familiar spot getting off to a slow start Tuesday trailing by as much as 15 points in the first half. They managed to win three times when trailing at halftime in every other Big Ten game, but this wasn't the night for comebacks.