Minnesota put its undefeated home record on the line Tuesday night when it hosted Maryland. Both sides came into the game looking to pick up a quality win to bolster their case for a NCAA tournament bid.
The game was a tale of two halves, with the Gophers controlling momentum in the first half but the Terrapins pulling away with a strong second half for a double-digit victory. Ultimately, Minnesota (12-3, 2-2 Big Ten) fell to Maryland (13-3, 4-1 Big Ten) 82-67.
"Credit to Maryland," head coach Richard Pitino told reporters. "Those young guys made some big time plays. Clearly, we allowed our poor shooting, our poor free-throw shooting, to affect some of the things that we could control."
Both teams appeared evenly matched in the first half, as expected. The lead changed five times in the opening 16 minutes. While the Gophers brought a six-point lead into halftime, it came at a cost. Star senior Jordan Murphy picked up three fouls, which limited his ability to play physically against Maryland's talented big men.
The run of play changed completely in the second half, where Maryland outscored Minnesota 48-27, led by the play of junior Anthony Cowan Jr. The shifty guard led all scorers with 27 points, 23 of which came in he second half. That mark tied his career high.
As has been the case for most of this season, the Gophers struggled against the zone defense. Minnesota was rarely able to get the ball moving towards the basket in the second half and often failed to knock down open jump shots.
"The zone didn't really do anything to us." senior Dupree McBrayer told reporters. "It caught us off guard, but it's just us not being confident at the free throw line."
Minnesota's Achilles' heel of the evening was free-throw shooting. The Gophers missed more shots than they made and went 9-23 (.391) from the line. In the second half, they converted four of their 14 free throw attempts. Over that span, Maryland went 6-7 (.857) on three-point field goals, which allowed the visitors to quickly extend their lead.
"Free-throws are mainly a mentality thing." Murphy told reporters. "Obviously we work on it every day in practice, but today we just didn't have it."
Despite the loss, there were some strong individual performances for the Gophers. Junior Amir Coffey once again led the team in scoring with 16 points. Freshman Daniel Oturu added a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Also, freshman Gabe Kalscheur broke out of a shooting slump going 3-5 from beyond the arc, totaling 13 points. Both of those marks were the best Kalscheur has had since Nov. 30 against Oklahoma State.
"[Kalscheur is] kind of the same all the time." Pitino told reporters. "Miss a shot or make a shot, it doesn't seem to be a whole lot different for him. I thought he was really good, he helped us."
Murphy, a typically reliable contributor for Minnesota, turned in a disappointing performance. Limited by foul trouble, he was unable to ever find a rhythm, finishing with nine points and five rebounds. After recording nine double-doubles in the season's first 12 games, he has failed to do so in his last three appearances.
While the loss is disappointing for the Gophers, they will have a chance to pick up some victories with their upcoming schedule. They next play Rutgers at Williams Arena on Saturday, and then have match-ups at Illinois and at home against Penn State. Those three teams have yet to record a victory in Big Ten play.