HomeBasketballMen’s basketball: Gophers top Nebraska, 78-75, in first round Big Ten tournament

Men’s basketball: Gophers top Nebraska, 78-75, in first round Big Ten tournament

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The goal for the Gophers men’s basketball team on Wednesday was to take the next step.

It was a modest movement, but the Gophers did what they couldn’t in Ben Johnson’s first postseason a year ago: win a first-round Big Ten tournament game.

The 14th-seeded Gophers overcame an ugly start to take an 11-point lead and weathered a late drought to knock off 11th-seed Nebraska 78-75 in Chicago. Minnesota will play Maryland at approximately 8 p.m. Thursday.

The last-place seed in the conference tournament had lost in the opening round in four straight years since 2018, including the Gophers falling 60-51 to Penn State last year.

“It means a lot,” Talon Cooper said of the win keeping their season alive. His 12 assists set a program record for a conference tourney game, breaking the mark set by his head coach.

Dawson Garcia, who was voted Big Ten honorable mention Tuesday, led Minnesota with 18 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

The Gophers (9-21) won for the second time in three games in March. Minnesota was in a similar spot Sunday vs. Wisconsin, with halftime and late-game leads but couldn’t make free throws down the stretch in another close loss.

The Gophers didn’t score a basket for the final four minutes Wednesday but made 10 free throws in that stretch.

After Jaden Henley made a free throw with a second left, Nebraska’s Keisei Tominaga’s half-court heave hit back iron.

With 16 minutes left, Minnesota had its biggest lead, 50-39, but it whittled away until a turning point with 10 minutes left.

Jamison Battle drew his fourth foul, but Johnson didn’t sit the senior. On the next defensive possession, Battle was whistled for a block foul and Minnesota lost one of its best players for the rest of the night.

Johnson repeatedly voiced his anger, needed to be held back by assistant coach Dave Thorson and received a technical foul. Nebraska (16-16) then made four free throws to cut Minnesota’s lead to 60-57.

Johnson said he was 0 for 3 on coaching decisions: not having Henley miss the last free throw, leaving Battle in the game with four fouls and succumbing to his emotions that became the technical foul.

“I was 0-for-3, but 3-for-3 because none of them burned us,” Johnson said in the postgame news conference.

The Gophers got off to an unsightly start, missing its first four shots and committing four turnovers on eight possessions to trail 8-0 in the first five minutes. But the U bounced back with a 26-11 run to take a 26-19 lead with under six minutes left in the half.

Minnesota led 37-33 at the half, a similar spot to when they were up 33-29 over Wisconsin but couldn’t finish in a 71-67 loss.

Minnesota also kept Nebraska from a third win over it this season. The Huskers won 81-79 in overtime at Williams Arena on Jan. 7 and 78-67 in Lincoln on Feb. 25.

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