For the fourth straight year, Nebraska has gone one-and-done in the Big Ten Tournament.
Mental mistakes doomed the 11th-seeded Huskers as No. 14 Minnesota avenged a regular-season sweep with a 78-75 win in the Wednesday nightcap at the United Center in Chicago.
Defensive breakdowns throughout the night, fouls at the worst times on both ends of the court and one brutal turnover cost Nebraska dearly, but even so the Huskers had a look from just inside half court at the buzzer from Keisei Tominaga to send the game to overtime. It was on line but hit hard off the back of the rim.
Nebraska heads home from Chicago carrying a 16-16 record.
Prior to Tominaga’s heave, Nebraska got the ball back down by two with 7.2 to play after Minnesota’s Ta’Lon Cooper split a pair of free throws. Sam Griesel grabbed the rebound and pushed the ball up the floor, and Coach Fred Hoiberg opted to let the Huskers play it out instead of calling a timeout. Griesel tried to get downhill but his defender cut him off and as he spun back Tominaga’s defender dug down off the corner and poked it away, knocking it off Griesel’s hand and out of bounds with 1.4 to play.
Nebraska fouled Jaden Henley, who missed the first and made the second to set up Nebraska’s final play.
Tominaga finished with a game-high 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting (2-of-6 from 3) and 5-of-5 from the free-throw line. Griesel notched his fourth double-double of the season with 16 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, shooting 8-of-10 from the foul line but only 4-of-13 from the field. Derrick Walker and Jamarques Lawrence chipped in 12 points apiece, with Lawrence shooting 3-of-6 from deep and Walker adding five assists.
Nebraska shot 43.5% from the field including 6-of-19 from 3 and 71.4% from the free-throw line. The Huskers only had eight turnovers but three of them came in the final 70 seconds including a pair of offensive fouls when Nebraska had a chance to tie or take the lead.
Nebraska forced 15 Minnesota turnovers and doubled up the Gophers in points off the takeaways, 18-9, but Minnesota also shot 51.9% from the field including 10-for-24 from 3. The Gophers were credited with 25 assists on 27 field goals as Minnesota picked apart Nebraska defense all night and shot the ball at a high clip.
Dawson Garcia led four Gophers in double figures with 18 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, his third double-double (all of which have come against Nebraska).
Nebraska’s defense got off to a great start, forcing four turnovers and four misses on Minnesota’s first eight possessions to jump out to an 8-0 lead.
Minnesota settled in from there, however, using a spurt to cut the lead to one before a Tominaga three-point play. The bucket didn’t halt the Gopher momentum in the slightest, however, as Minnesota continued to pour it on with five straight made shots to take a 21-16 lead.
Tominaga traded 3s with Jamison Battle before Walker picked up his second foul and took a seat. Minnesota continued to move the ball and pick apart the Nebraska defense, stretching its lead to nine at 34-25 on Garcia’s fifth bucket of the half.
Lawrence ended the Minnesota run with his third triple, sparking an 8-3 run to close the half, but Minnesota still took a 37-33 lead into halftime after shooting 57.7% from the field including 5-of-11 from 3 in the first half.
Nebraska shot 40% including 4-of-12 from 3 behind 10 points from the freshman, Lawrence.
Halftime didn’t cool the Gophers off any as they hit six of their first 10 shots including three more 3s to open the second half, building a 52-42 lead at the first media timeout.
The Huskers stepped up their aggressiveness from there and the Gophers got a bit sloppy as Minnesota went more than three minutes between buckets and turned the ball over three times. Nebraska scored six straight to cut the deficit down to four.
Minnesota pushed the lead back to eight before Walker found Lawrence cutting to the basket for a layup, then Griesel drew Battle’s fourth foul with 9:31 to play. Minnesota coach Ben Johnson opted to leave Battle in and he knocked down a jumper on the other end, but Griesel went right at him and Battle committed his fifth at the 9:01 mark, taking his 13 points, eight rebounds and three assists to the bench with him.
Johnson picked up a technical complaining about the call and Nebraska took advantage, hitting all four free throws to make it a three-point game. Cooper and Tominaga traded 3s then Griesel pulled Nebraska within one on a jump hook.
That’s as close as the Huskers got, however, as they never found a way to get over the hump.
Trailing by three after a Tominaga put-back, Nebraska forced Minnesota to use up the entire shot clock, then C.J. Wilcher fouled Henley as he chucked up a 3 at the buzzer. The freshman hit all three free throws to double the lead.
Griesel scored a pair of tough buckets to pull Nebraska within two then forced a Minnesota turnover with 1:16 to go, setting up the final Husker turnover-filled sequence.
Both teams shot just under 47% from the field, but Minnesota hit five more 3s in the second half while the Huskers went just 2-for-7 from deep.
Now Nebraska will have to wait on news of a potential postseason invitation, though the loss to the Gophers has caused significant damage to the Huskers’ résumé.