Fresh off the worst loss of their season at Iowa, the Gophers had set the stage perfectly for another road collapse Sunday in Lincoln, Neb.
But this time, Minnesota didn’t let it happen.
Or perhaps more accurately, Chip Armelin didn’t let it happen.
The sophomore guard had 15 points, five rebounds and three assists as the Gophers held on to defeat Nebraska 69-61.
Minnesota (5-6 Big Ten) struggled through an ugly first 30 minutes before Armelin and the team’s other guards ignited a faster pace of play. The Gophers used a 9-0 run to take a 48-39 lead with eight minutes left, and they never led by fewer than six points the rest of the way.
Ten of Armelin’s 15 points came in the last 8:01, and eight came on uncontested layups.
It was a stark contrast from the first half, when Minnesota needed five 3-pointers to overcome a slow start, poor ball handling and a lack of controlled aggression on offense.
The Gophers trailed 33-32 at halftime despite attempting just one free throw.
In the second half, they shot 15 free throws, making seven, and seemed to get into the paint at will. On the other end of the floor, the Huskers (3-8) struggled to execute their halfcourt offense and often settled for contested 3-pointers.
Minnesota shot 54 percent from the field — 67 percent in the second half — and held a rebounding edge (31-24) for the first time in four games.
Poor shooting and rebounding had doomed the Gophers in their last game — a 63-59 loss at Iowa in which they blew a late 10-point lead. The Hawkeyes dominated Minnesota in every facet of the game after switching to a zone defense midway through the second half.
But the Gophers saw only man-to-man defense from Nebraska on Sunday and after struggling to beat it for most of the game, they figured it out in the last 10 minutes.
Minnesota’s three point guards — Julian Welch, Andre Hollins and Maverick Ahanmisi — each contributed to the Gophers’ run despite splitting playing time in the second half.
Ahanmisi’s 3-point play with 11 minutes left put the Gophers up by three points, and Hollins’s 3-pointer a minute later gave them their largest lead of the game at 45-39.
Minnesota trailed by as many as eight points in the first half but responded each time Nebraska made a run.
After an 8-0 run gave the Huskers a 19-11 lead, Minnesota used consecutive 3-pointers from Austin Hollins, Welch and Armelin to go ahead 20-19.
Nebraska scored seven of the last nine points to close the first half and opened the second half with a bucket, but the Gophers struck back with five consecutive points.
Despite making several contested 3-pointers, the Huskers were never able to respond to the Gophers’ late run.
Freshman guard Joe Coleman was held scoreless for the second straight game but grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.
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