It was a game that could have gone one of two ways for Nebraska, and boy did it go wrong for the Huskers from the opening tip.
Facing a No. 23 Minnesota squad that was riding a four-game losing streak and Nebraska having just picked up its first Big Ten Conference home win of the year, the Golden Gophers came out determined to get their season back on track. When all was said and done, NU simply couldn't keep up with Minnesota's athleticism and physicality in an 84-65 blowout Tuesday night in Minneapolis.
Regarded as one of the best rebounding teams in all of college basketball, the Gophers (16-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten) certainly lived up to that billing by completely dominating the Huskers in the low post. Not only did UM out-rebound the NU 36-19 and 16-4 on the offensive glass, it also threw down an almost unheard of eight dunks in the win.
Nebraska (11-11, 2-7) shot 55 percent from the field and 64.3 percent (9-of-14) from 3-point range, including a career-high 30 points on six treys by junior guard Ray Gallegos. But that wasn't nearly enough to combat 13 turnovers and the Gophers' 44-16 edge in points in the paint and 20-3 advantage in second-chance points.
"I guess it didn't look like we weren't working," head coach Tim Miles said during his post-game interview on the Husker Sports Network. "I just thought they were crisper than we were. They were playing with more urgency than we were. They looked like a team that had just lost four in a row and were dying to get a win. Their offensive pace was tremendous, and we didn't match that very well."
Senior forward Rodney Williams helped Minnesota come out swinging right out of the gates with a pair of dunks to help the Gophers go on a 7-0 run to open the game. Williams scored eight of UM's first nine points, and the lead quickly increased to 19-6 after another 10-run scoring spurt.
Minnesota ended up scoring on 11 of its first 14 possessions of the game, and led by as much as 15 points midway through the half. Luckily for Nebraska, though, Gallegos was there to keep them within reach. Having struggled with his shooting for most of Big Ten play, Gallegos shot lights out the entire half, going 8-of-10 from the field and 4-6 from 3-point range to put up 20 of his points in the first half.
The Huskers shot a blistering 63.6 percent from the field as a team in the first half, but it wasn't good enough to keep from going into halftime down 44-35 after a layup by UM guard Austin Hollins in the final seconds.
Williams ended up with 19 of his career-high 23 points in the first 20 minutes, and the Gophers out-rebounded NU 16-9 and 7-0 on the offensive glass to go along with six dunks. Minnesota's 44 points in the half equaled its total scoring output in its 45-44 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday.
"They just did what they had to do," Miles said. "They got out to a quick start. They got Rodney Williams going off quick. Then of course we didn't rebound. I don't know. Some of it is they've got some length and athleticism we don't have. We need more of that, and that's only going to be solved in the recruiting process. But at the same time, you've got to do your job. You've got to do your job.
"We just had some letdowns that way, and that was frustrating, because there were times I thought we were playing really well on one end of the floor on offense, but we couldn't cut into the lead because we dug ourselves too big of a whole."
While Nebraska was able to keep it close with hot shooting in the first half, it cooled down in the second while Minnesota kept on rolling. Down 48-40 after a 3-pointer by freshman Shavon Shields with 16 minutes to play, the Huskers saw the game pull essentially out of reach after guard Andre Hollins scored six straight points to push the lead back up to 14.
"I thought, OK, we've kind of taken their big punch, and now we're going to bounce back and find a way to gut this out and muck it up into a game, and we didn't," Miles said. "We just didn't. We didn't do enough things right. We had a stretch of turnovers and bad decisions by some guys … and it was bad."
The Gophers continued to dominate the glass and seemingly score at will in the paint, and they quickly went back up 63-47 with the help of another 10-2 run. It was all Minnesota from there, as it would eventually go up by as much as 20 points before settling with a 19-point victory.
The final score certainly put a damper on what was otherwise an outstanding night for Gallegos. After tying his previous career-high of 22 with eight minutes remaining in the game, he ended up shooting 12-of-17 from the field and 6-of-9 from beyond the arc to go along with a team-high four rebounds. He became the first Husker to score 30 points in a game since 2008.
"Ray was super," Miles said. "If it wasn't for Ray - right? Finish the sentence. Ray was just, really I thought looked in rhythm and looked really smooth. I felt like we couldn't run enough stuff for him."
Senior forward Brandon Ubel had 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting but only one rebound, while Shields was the only other Husker in double figures with 10 points.
The road definitely won't get any easier for Nebraska from here, and it now must get ready to host No. 11 Ohio State on Saturday for its first conference rematch of the season.
"There's another ranked team; I don't know what they'll be, but this is the Big Ten," Miles said. "I would imagine that we're going to play a heck of a lot better than we did last time against Ohio State. It's going to be an important match-up for us. We've seen them before. There are going to be no surprises."