Little was expected of Minnesota on Tuesday night.
After being blown out by Illinois and having to grind out a victory against Penn State, many thought No. 5 Michigan would impose its will on the Gophers. Few predicted a competitive game.
In a game that featured one series of twists and turns after another, Minnesota (15-5, 4-4 Big Ten) came up short against No. 5 Michigan (18-1, 7-1 Big Ten) to lose 59-57. Despite leading in the first half and fighting back from a 13-point deficit in the second, the Gophers pushed the Wolverines to the brink of overtime with 30 seconds left.
"We fought back on the road, showed good poise," head coach Richard Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. "But the name of the game is to get the win, and we didn't do it."
In stark contrast to the last road game at Illinois, where Minnesota fell behind early, the Gophers got off to a good start against Michigan. Minnesota made six of its first nine field goal attempts. Over the same span, Michigan made only two of its first 12.
Unsurprisingly, the disparity in shooting didn't last long. After trailing 19-10, Michigan responded with a 13-4 run, tying the game on a 3-pointer from junior Jon Teske with 5:47 until halftime. Teske made all five of his field goal attempts in the first half, scoring 11 points.
Despite senior Jordan Murphy and freshman Daniel Oturu battling foul trouble, Minnesota was able to take a 3-point lead into half time. Pitino praised his team's effort in the opening 20 minutes.
"We can be really, really good," Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. "I thought offensively, 48 percent [shooting], we were really efficient, we held them to 31 percent [shooting]."
The start of the second half was a completely different story, with Michigan playing up to its potential. The Wolverines scored 24 of the half's first 34 points to take a commanding 52-39 lead that seemed insurmountable.
However, despite looking completely defeated moments earlier, Minnesota rallied over the game's final nine minutes. Murphy broke a near six-minute scoreless skid for Minnesota with a tip-in bucket and from then on, the Gophers had all the momentum. A 3-pointer by Gabe Kalscheur tied the game with 24 seconds to play.
Michigan called a timeout to set up for its final possession. The Wolverines held the ball until 10 seconds remained, then gave the ball to freshman Ignas Brazdeikis. He led Michigan in scoring with 18 points. He had his layup attempt blocked by redshirt sophomore Eric Curry, who was making his first start of the season for Minnesota. However, the loose ball bounced right to senior Charles Matthews, who hit a floater over Murphy as the horn sounded.
Murphy once again turned in a strong performance for Minnesota. He followed up a career game against Penn State with 15 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes against Michigan. After the Gophers fell behind 52-39, he scored seven of the team's next 13 points that brought them within five.
"There are positives and negatives, and we'll just learn and move on," Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network about the loss. "We can't turn the ball over 16 times like that. I thought we rebounded and defended the way that we needed to. Just really sloppy with turnovers."
Minnesota will have until Sunday to improve on the errors that prevented it from beating one of college basketball's best teams. The Gophers' next game is against Iowa on Jan. 27 at Williams Arena.